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THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES… Telling Our Stories By Sherry Cannon

Anyone who knows me will say that I have an opinion about most things and have a propensity for stating them. Having said that, I want to offer my opinion on this year’s election cycle.

First, I must give a shout out to my two newest Sheroes, Jackie Petty and Helen King, who worked tirelessly leading the charge, along with dozens of volunteers to get over two thousand new voters registered. They spent numerous hours in the summer heat going door to door, to nursing homes, high schools, and beauty & barber shops, to register people. They also registered over two hundred ex-felons.

The day before the election, in a training session to work in local GOTV efforts, looking around I saw an aging but enthusiastic group of people. I asked Jackie was she grooming someone to continue her work. She said they recognized the need to begin training younger people to hand the mantle off to.

This past summer I worked with several young people between the ages of 21-30 years-old on getting their peers out to vote. One of my young friends produced (3) thirty-second voter registration videos and blasted them on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. A Bradley campus group co-hosted a Rock the Vote event, where a half dozen Rap Artist, DJ’s, and Singers donated their time and talent performing while we registered students.

The Bradley NAACP group helped coordinate a student early vote drive, and finally, I spoke on college radio shows, which young people produced and hosted. These young adults know how to use all the twenty-first-century tools, but what they don’t have is the same sense of urgency that Jackie Petty & Helen King possess.

Those of us who came of age in the late ’60s and ’70s did a disservice by not passing on our history. We have left it to the history books to tell them the sterilized version of our story. Our children need to know the truth of the humiliation that Black people endured in this country.

They need to know about driving down South and not being able to use bathrooms at service stations. The inability to use public parks, being forced to sit in balconies of theaters, or sitting in the back of buses. Having to step off sidewalks if you walked past someone white in southern states. Having to use Black only entrances to doctor offices, and numerous other indignities put upon a people, who were not accepted as equal.

I believe we didn’t tell the stories because we were ashamed of the things our parents had endured. We eternalized their bad treatment as our own shame. Thus, we worked hard unconsciously and collectively conspired to bury those ugly memories of our history.

In burying our history, we also buried the stories of a strong people. A people, who under the most inhumane condition survived being cheated by unscrupulous people that manipulated them because of their limited education. We survived subpar housing conditions and inadequate access to medical care. We buried stories of women who were able to take the scraps and throw-away from white employers to feed and clothe their children. Stories of a people who didn’t give up because life was hard. A people of determination and fortitude that left southern states and migrated North looking for a better way of life for themselves and their families.

It was these people who worked hard for years in places like the foundries at Caterpillar and Peoria Malleable, so that their children would never have to work that hard. They scrimped and saved to buy homes, which they took great pride in. Many had been sharecroppers and only completed the fourth or fifth grade but were determined their kids would do better than they did. And we did do better; we graduated college, got paying jobs with Caterpillar, CILCO, and other companies. We moved to integrated neighborhoods, sent our kids to four-year universities, and thought we had arrived and no longer had to be concerned with those days of old.

Then the unbelievable happened, a Black man was elected President of the United States, and all bets were off. This session the Supreme Court will be reviewing the section of the Voters Rights Act, which requires approval from the Justice Department, from states who historically practiced voter’s suppression. This court has already weakened the Affirmative Action Policy that was instituted to redress discrimination in spite of Civil Right Laws.

In my opinion, it’s time to share our stories with our children and our grandchildren. They need to know about Big Mama, who cleaned white people’s houses. They need to know that Pawpaw only went to fifth grade but worked thirty years in a factory, so all four of his kids were able to go to college.

Tell them about being the first one in your family who went to college. Tell them about participating in sit-ins and marches in Peoria to integrate local businesses. Tell them about being the first Black person at your jobs; about how you were called names, talked about, ostracized, but refused to be pushed out.

Tell them your stories, so they won’t have to re-fight the same battles we thought we had won. Tell them so they’ll know all the things that they take for granted, cost somebody else something, and in many cases their life.

Tell them, so they’ll know that they come from a proud heritage. A heritage of strong people, who against all odds, was able to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. A people who excelled in science, medicine, the arts, sports, and politics. A people that knew, if God be for you, that was greater than the whole world against you. Come on people, before we can pass the mantle, we must tell them our story!

Writer’s note: This is a reprint of an article that I wrote in 2012. It seemed so relevant today, and I believe needed to be shared again. Wishing you a safe, prosperous, and Happy 2021.