This month I have been focusing more on what every day Blackness is. This blog post will not be any different. If you have been able to attend many of our Black History Month programs this year you may have noticed something - that much of those who spoke, shared, presented and entertained you were all folks alive and well...living. If you were able to attend you heard the wonderful old woman I call my grandmother tell about her earliest memories. If you were able to attend last night's artist showcase you saw art from local Black artists and next week we will have a speaker who will share information on Black fatherhood.
In the Background
We think of Black history as in the past. We focus on the greats in Black history, the pioneers who were the first to achieve some greatness. However, we forget that before Dr. King's name graced our main library and many streets across the American landscape he was Martin who played pool. Before Muhammed Ali was the greatest he was my mother's childhood friend Marcellus. The bus boycott in Montgomery wouldn't have happened and Rosa Parks wouldn't have gotten out of jail if it wasn't for the Pullman Porters. When women took to the streets to fight for the right to vote the 22 women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. were right there marching too in 1913. Then there are the countless Black librarians who shaped the profession and collections for countless children of all races, but always kept in mind the needs of their Black community.
The truth is for almost every great Black person who has ever lived there was a community, or another person, who started the path forward, carrying that torch as far as they could, waiting for the "next" to pick it up. Unsung everyday heroes who didn't do it for fame or glory but because they felt it in the depth of their spirts that it was what they were called to do. From medical pioneers who often did not get the credit and accolades during their lives, to culinary artists and cooks who feed not only minds but souls to Black creatives like the artists we highlighted on Feb 17, 2022 who used their art to show resiliency and resistance. Nevertheless, those who were "next" almost always had people who were behind them who uplifted them, cried with them, marched with them, lost their jobs, their freedom and sometimes their lives to support their dreams. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would later echo the old adage by Emma Lazarus "None of us are free until all of us are free". The path to equality and equity can not be done by just one person alone it takes ALL OF US...you too!
Words from the Old Man
My father told me many things as a girl growing up as he knew from the day I was born that he would most likely not see me graduate high school, as I was born in his twilight years. The old man did his best to pack as many life lessons as he could in the little amount of time he had. However, one of the biggest lessons is the last one. It has always stuck with me and shapes how I navigate the world today. It is a lesson I will share with you and challenge you to embrace as your own:
"When you walk through a door, don't let that door slam behind you."
Now of course, on the surface, it sounds like just general advice on how not to be rude in a physical sense. Furthermore, it may sound like something a frustrated parent may say to a child going in and out of the house constantly (except we had a solid metal door that closed slower than a snail crossing a 6 lane highway). No, my father enjoyed speaking in metaphors. He knew that his days were numbered since if he were alive today he would be older than my grandmother. I will admit back then as a 11 almost 12 year old kid I just nodded and said "yeah yeah old man but can I have three dollars to go to the store" and the truth of those words didn't initially sink in. It has been almost 30 years to the day since I last heard my father speak to me and those words he casually said as I left his side for the last time...they stuck with me, just like many others. Meaningless in the moment, but powerful for the future, as he had a major stroke later that day and I never spoke to him again.
What he was trying to tell me is that I do not achieve for just myself but I do so for all who will come behind me in the future. While I may never achieve greatness that will garner me recognition to have my name grace a building or a city street, I very well may be the person who carries a torch that someone later will pick up; that how I lead my life everyday and the lives I touch, may ripple beyond the limits of my own imagination.
Your Own Legacy
We often do not think beyond the limits of our own lifetimes. Many think of the future after our own time on this earthly plane as a distant future that should be left to the future. I challenge you today to stop thinking short-term. Your actions today even the very small kindness of standing up for someone who can't, giving a kindness when you didn't have to or even buying something from a Black creative can very well be the spark on that torch someone will pick up that will changes someone else's life tomorrow. For many of the Black heroes we honor today they knew that the work they did may never be seen to fruition in their life times...but (guess what) they did it anyway!
Even myself, everything I do for social justice, every cause I champion, every story I share with you and every Black child I speak to about a future of possibility is not for myself. I do the things I do for my daughter, my future grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and the children that will come from them, for the Black children who will carry on when I am not here. I hope to leave them a world better than my time in it, and it's not an easy goal to have. Now if I am fortunate to take after my grandmother or my great-great aunts I may have a lot more life to go and I will see the seeds I am planting grow into something larger than myself but, if I am not, to quote the great singer Donny Hathaway, "Take it from me one day one day we'll all be free".
Keep learning and keep fighting!...