Scripture tells us that a good name is more desirable than great riches. True value must be placed on not what we have, but in who we are.
I am 5-generations from slavery. Oral history on my father’s side says that my grandfather, Curtis Jones Sr. a mulatto, born in 1893 left the segregated south as a young man to avoid being lynched. Grandfather Jones lived to be 97 years old.
Curtis Jones Jr. (Father)
As I approach the 65th year of life, I begin to look over my life. It seems like the years passed by at warp speed. I think about growing up in the 50’s in Hannibal, Mo., a community of less than 20,000 people. I had little inter-action with anyone that wasn’t Black, outside of school. In 1959, the year I began school was the year schools were integrated in Hannibal.
It was understood that there was a place for Black people and a place for white people in Hannibal. We had little exposure to the Civil Rights Movement, and until Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, I had no real understanding of the chaos going on around the country.
By nineteen I was a wife and a mother, of course, that marriage didn’t last long. By age of 22, I was working in corporate America, and I found my voice. I saw the barriers of being a woman and especially a Black woman. I realized the power of strength in numbers and became actively involved in the union.
I also experienced racism in the union. By my early 30’s I began to trust my instincts, speak truth to power and organized the African-Americans in our office. We formed our own support group and had each other’s back. We made sure every newly hired African-American would get through the probation period, helping them meet their work requirements. It was during that era that I understood the power of the vote.
It was during the Kennedy and Johnson’s years that Affirmative Action laws were enacted to “even the playing field” of 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation. However, by the late 90’s attitudes of white America changed toward the gains made by African-Americans. Suddenly, what was designed to “even the playing field”, became an unfair advantage or reversed discrimination.
Through the Nixon years, the Reagan years, and two Bush presidencies, the gains made by African-Americans began to erode. By the end of George W. Bush’s term, the average African Americans wealth was almost non-existent.
The election of Barrack Obama in 2008 was a two-edged sword. As a people we were elated, the possibility of who our children could become, was exuberating.
It looked like America had made a monumental and life-changing statement that we were now going to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.
However, Obama’s election unleashed hatred and racism unparalleled to anything I’ve ever witnessed. It was this sentiment of having the first African-American president that enabled the likes of a Donald Trump’s presidency.
In my entire 64 years of life, I have never experienced the anxiety that this administration has caused. My first Great-Grandchild will soon be born. I am extremely concerned with how my great-grandson will fair, in this white nationalist culture.
Black lives are under-valued and expendable in this culture of Trumpism. A culture where Black people are over-policed and under-protected at the same time. A culture where mental illness is criminalized and police officers are given commendations of valor for killing them. A culture where Black people lose their lives for of a traffic violation. A culture where Black women are assaulted and arrested for asking for plastic forks. A culture where Black men are arrested for sitting in a restaurant. A culture where a Black student, who falls asleep in at the college she attends, and must show ID to prove she belongs there. A culture where the police are called on Black people grilling in a park; on black fathers pushing their child in a stroller; or on black women, who didn’t wave to a white woman.
My anxiety level increases as I think about the country my great-grandson is coming into, and what the future holds for him. Statistics tell me that more than likely he will not have the same financial stability as I do; That one in three Black males will go to jail in his lifetime.
Will he be given the opportunity to live out his life with purpose and on purpose?
Or will this nation continue to allow young Black lives to be snuffed out without any accountability? Will our city, state and federal political leaders continue to give a blind eye to injustices inflicted on the poor and most vulnerable among us?
Will the US continue to be the leader of the free world in incarcerations? Will it continue to lead the free world in killings by guns? Will this country continue to let money be the determining factor of what laws are made or broken?
As I reflect on all these things, I believe that there are still more good people, than evil people in this country. I believe in this Millennial Generation, and that they will lead the change we all desire to see. I see the spirit of Martin in them, speaking that NOW is the time to demand change; the spirit of Maya in them, speaking that if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition in which he/she is born the seemingly impossible is possible.
I speak to my great-grandson Rush, still in his mother’s womb. He must choose how he will live his life. That he has an obligation, a mandate to challenge injustice whenever and wherever he encounters it; That his word is all he has, and his yes should be yes, and his no should be no; That he should live life full of curiosity and expectation; That he was created in the image of God; and that his Grammie encourages him to choose to live life boldly and with purpose.