Arguably, most people in my generation cannot fathom a life without choices. We are immune to entrances and exits specified on the base of color, laws that prohibit dating or communing outside of our own race, and educational exclusions for nothing more than bias. We have read the stories, seen the footage, and even admired the courage of people we didn’t know. But we don’t have the genuine knowledge based on experience. In my humble opinion, that handicaps us in some instances.
The story of the African American in this country so closely resembles that of the children of Israel that it leaves me in awe. Whether you look at slavery, rebellion, or oppression, the African in America has a story parallel to that of Israel. What courage must it take to live in a land with no universal dialect, yet still speak? What strength must one have to be beaten daily and yet build a nation with nothing more than one’s own hands? What brilliance must one possess to follow stars and spirituals to find a way to freedom, even at the cost of one’s life? And yet the story continues to this day, as oppression lives more in the minds of Black folk than it ever has. Like Israel, we have come from under the rule of Pharaoh, yet Pharaoh is still in us. We left the land, but we kept the way of living. We have forsaken the God of our weary years.
In his third and final verse of the adopted negro black anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, James Weldon Johnson penned, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou Who has brought us this far on the way…” It was this acknowledgment of the God who kept us through passage, pillaging, and provocation that energized the spirit and fueled the soul. It was when Israel remembered the God of their salvation that He loosed them. And such is the case with us. My generation and beyond has a lofty debt to pay. We may back in success what mammies and field workers sowed in blood. We pay back in honor what mothers had to watch hanging from trees.
George Santayana once said, “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned I repeat it.” Who have we become with our posh lifestyles, disrespectful conversations, and entitled attitudes? If we are not careful, we, like the children of Israel, will continue to travail in the wilderness. The words of Mr. Johnson’s prose rings true to this day. May we NEVER let the privilege of posterity prevent our purposeful pride in those who paved the way for us to have it. It honors God when a seed grows into a flower. But the flower honors the root of the plant by lifting its petals back to heaven in gratitude. May we always be like the flower.