It doesn’t seem like it would be Black History Month without a mention of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This stalwart intellectual, author and filmmaker is a regular supplier of commentary and programs for the Public Broadcasting System, a sample of which includes his recent “And Still I Rise: Black America Since MLK” documentary (there’s also a book; see below.).
When I am able, I watch his show Finding Your Roots, which traces the family lineage of famous people sometimes going as far back as their original homeland. I will never forget the episode with Chris Rock (actor, comedian) who discovered his great grandfather (I might be missing a great) was a Union soldier who took up the fight for freedom once he became free. Rock cried when he discovered this and I cried, too. It was moving! After learning something that profound, how does one not stick out one’s chest and proudly proclaim, “I’m black and I’m proud!”
As we celebrate Black History Month I think about what Black America would look like if every black person stuck out their chest and said, “I’m black and I’m proud,” and meant it. I imagine there would be no more gang violence or black-on-black crime. I imagine the effects of separation by light-skinned versus dark-skinned would vanish and there’d be a great reduction of black men in prison or on the streets. In the Black America of “I’m black and I’m proud,” education would be priority number one, hard work number two, and one goal—the continued rise of all black people in body, spirit and mind—would be the be all, end all.
Black people, we can do this! We can still rise, and not only during Black History Month when pride runs high, but all year, every year. Even if our great-grandfather did not fight for freedom, we can all claim a legacy of freedom fighting. How? By voting. By writing letters to our newspaper editors or writing emails to news/media outlets. By attending board and council meetings and challenging our leaders when necessary. By creating our own non-profits that address societal ills. By starting our own businesses (and supporting those businesses). By posting positive images and facts over negative ones. By speaking truth regardless of how hard that might be. By fighting, fighting, fighting.
Black people, we can do this! If our forefathers could rise out of slavery to run countries and businesses, to raise healthy families, to hang on to positive morals and values, to make a way out of no way, how can we not rise with all that is available to us? We can do this. We can rise. We must rise.