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I remember studying American History in elementary school and the feeling I had every time we reached the paragraph about the contributions of blacks to America’s history. I could be wrong but it seemed to go a little something like this “slavery happened, civil rights, oh yeah, and Martin Luther King, great guy. Moving on.” It was a combination of feeling uncomfortable, cheated and wanting more. Then there was high school at a private, predominately white, Christian school. Where I can recall all of my speeches in speech class were either covering Black History or race related. It was a win-win in my high-school mind, I would learn something new through my research and in turn offer a different perspective to those listening. I also remember my high school’s attempt at celebrating black history month. In February, during morning announcements the administration would have one of the few black kids at the school read a “fun fact” about black history, every morning.
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” – Carter G. Woodson
Woodson made this statement in 1926 during Negro History Week. Woodson believed that teaching black history was vital to the survival of the black race in the broader society. Fifty years later the week was turned into a month. It is a month intended to pay tribute to our ancestors who fought and died to achieve full citizenship. Their stories and achievements weren’t being told and was often overlooked. The validity of the month is often questioned by people from various backgrounds. While I agree with Morgan Freeman 100% when he said “Black History is American History,” I recognize and appreciate the spirit and intentions of the month. The history of black people in America is not properly told in its entirety. Do we, as a nation, fully comprehend what people of color faced and overcame? No matter if it’s February or November; anytime I’m reminded of the history of blacks in America I always hear the word: Resilience
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Resilience — the ability to be knocked down by life and comeback stronger. The capacity to recover quickly from stress and catastrophe. According to Froma Walsh, a leading authority on family resilience, “being resilient includes more than surviving and being a victim for life, it’s also the ability to heal from painful wounds, take charge of their lives, and go on to live fully and love well.”
Stripped from their homeland, their families and forced to endure years of enslavement. Legally considered 3/5 a person. Blacks kept hope of freedom alive, many of them rising up, resisting and rebelling. Many of them found creative ways to educate themselves and those around them. Freedom time finally came presenting new obstacles; setting up homes, finding work, and providing for their families. In spite of the failures of reconstruction, newly enfranchised blacks flourished even gaining a voice in the government for the first time in American history.
In 1941, the country entered into its first world war; black men saw this as an opportunity to prove their loyalty and worthiness to be treated as equal citizens. Only to face hostility when they arrived to training, then to return home after the war, to violence and ingratitude. Blacks went on to fight in WWII paving the way to a fully integrated military by the Vietnam War.
They excelled as educators, philosophers, musicians, writers, scientist, and theologians; all the while enduring decades of Jim Crow. Where laws were set up to disfranchise them; the housing options were inadequate, the education was poor and the economic opportunities were limited. The film, “Selma” did a great job at depicting the resilient spirit of people who refused to take “no” for an answer. There were times where progress was nowhere in sight. In spite of the countless beatings, jobs lost, numerous arson attacks, threats and lives lost they continued on. The sit-ins, the boycotts, the marches and protest continued, all in the name of freedom and equality. Forcing the government to ultimately pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and later on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Their courageous acts paved the way, opened doors and set the tone for the America we know today. Their resilient spirit is why there’s a history to tell. It is why Black Americans aren’t, as Woodson put it, “negligible factors in the thought of the world.”
This is resiliency embodied. Life is full of adversities. We all have the ability to overcome them and live full lives. American History is a testament to the human ability to be “knocked down by life and come back stronger.” I encourage you to re-connect with your inner strength and find ways to boost your resilience. Fully feel your emotions, encourage yourself, connect with others, reflect on a time you made it and were able to comeback stronger. Think of the great people who exude resilience and made history.
Ameli Boyton in “Selma” encouraged Corretta Scott King with these words:
“I know that we are descendants of a mighty people who gave civilization to the world. People who survived the halls of slave ships across vast oceans. People who innovate and create and love despite pressure and torture unimaginable. They are in our blood stream. Pumping our hearts every second. They’ve prepared you. You are already prepared.”