I had been on a social media/television sabbatical of sorts. Over the past two weeks, I have been trying to work on personal discipline and focus, as an example to my children. Being disciplined and focused on a consistent basis is one of my many struggles. It is important to me as a parent, that my children see positive behaviors being modeled at home and in our “community.” I have spent the past two weeks in my own world, reflecting on myself and ways that I can be a better version of Anoa. A more disciplined, focused, and healthy person. Single mom life is busy. I am often moved to write, but rarely do I take the time to put my thoughts into a tangible medium. However, when I learned of the unrest in Baltimore, I felt compelled to write something. Seeing reports of community destruction hurts my heart. There are so many lessons and missed opportunities for real sustainable change. My experience growing up at the feet of activist/conscious parents, taught me that our best chance for “change” is having clear visioning and consistent/persistent action that is coordinated across the community.
Somewhere along the way, we developed this disjointed way of developing and training our youth. Over the past two weeks, I have looked at my own children with a new set of eyes. So bright and full of ideas. Full of potential, yet squandering opportunity over the silliest things. “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you won’t know where you are going.” I have been repeating this statement to my son for months. He hates Social Studies. His fifth grade mind is lost on the relevance of the declaration of independence or either world war. Slavery was a long time ago. “Why does this matter? Why do I need to know this?” He asks earnestly. My answer is always the same. “History is important. It repeats itself. We have to know the past, to prepare for our future.”
My son does not understand that the keys to freeing this younger generation lie in those textbooks. We will be doomed to repeat our mistakes and follies until we stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Reading, learning, and understanding causes of persisting issues of urban inequality in many neighborhoods can shape conversations regarding future development, allocation of funds and resources, viability of business districts, and education/public housing reform. Knowing the historical issues and inequities can provide ammunition for supporting or objecting to proposed projects. It can help shape meetings regarding school curriculums and policies. I hear people say that their voice doesn’t matter, which can be an understandable feeling of the disenfranchised. But had these same folks known the history of organization and involvement, they may be surprised to learn of successful examples of real change.
One thing that history has taught us, is it that civil unrest in the form of “rioting” and “looting” achieves very little, causes turmoil, as well as physical and emotional damage. If our children knew the history of our struggle, of their own communities, they would know of the difficulties and strife that came out of the riots in the late 1960s. People were tired and frustrated, and they had enough. Some of you may say, well “THEY” don’t teach us about our history. Once upon a time, our people put a high premium on learning and acquiring knowledge. No one has ever “given” us anything…not even freedom. Everything Black people have acquired in this country has been the result of our direct action. Our ancestors put blood, sweat, and tears into the promise of a better future and here we are “free” yet still so very very lost. All the reasons and rationalizations at the end of the day are excuses. And you know what they say about excuses? They are nothing more than the tools of the weak and incompetent used to build monuments of nothingness. Holding ourselves accountable for our actions, is not respectability politics… it is simple fact. It is one thing to acknowledge a condition and try to work to bring about change, and it is another matter altogether to sit around making excuses and trying to rationalize away the negative. History matters. If only to teach us what not to do. History matters. If only to provide us with examples of leadership, organization, and determination. Self-Determination and Collective Responsibility are our birth right and should not be tossed aside because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Even before this country’s creation, we have had the boot of another upon us. We were told we were less than human, we were property. Although many of us cannot trace our ancestry pass a plantation, there is strength in knowing that we come from a people who created something from nothing. People who were raised and conditioned to serve, yet chose to rise up and demand respect and fair treatment. There is strength in our history, but we have to be open to seeing the value. One of my personal favorite people is Fannie Lou Hamer. Mrs. Hamer was the youngest of 20 children. Like so many others, she dropped out of school to help work in the cotton fields. Picking cotton may have been her livelihood, but Mrs. Hamer sought to become involved in the changing world around her. She volunteered to be the first to register during a voter registration campaign in Mississippi. Despite the threat of possible lynching, beatings, loss of employment, arrest, and other state sanctioned harassment Mrs. Hamer and others set out to register. She became increasingly involved in organizing voter registration drives and literacy campaigns, as well as in the fight for human rights. Even though she was severely beaten and tortured upon returning from one such campaign, she stayed the course. Mrs. Hamer is famously quoted as saying “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Her frustration was her motivation. She NEVER backed down from a challenge, and found productive means to express her viewpoint and help her community. Google her. She is an amazing example of how we can take a stand and make a difference in our world.
Those of us who “made it” need to reach back and help our brothers and sisters understand the value in organizing and civic engagement. Sitting around shaking our heads and fingers at people is not going to change anything. We need to get down in the trenches from the Ivory towers and office buildings and help build something sustainable. People are tired, they are frustrated, and full of angst and despair. I do not live in a delusional world. I know that my son or daughter (because yes women of color are targets too) could lose their lives to state sanctioned violence. But looting and rioting is inexcusable. Destroying our neighborhoods and laying waste to the hard work of another sends a message that reinforces the behaviors and attitudes you are claiming to be against. We have to make sure that we are doing everything we can always, regardless of what those other people are doing, to improve the condition of our own. I can’t control someone else’s behavior. I can ask, beg, plead, demand, hope, and pray that they change. But at the end of the day all I can do is handle myself. Taking care of our families and communities first and foremost has to be our priority.
Understanding and knowledge of the history and struggle of Black peoples throughout the Diaspora is a must. Lessons from their life struggles show us examples of finding strength, will, and determination to not only organize but lead. We have to put in the work to see real change in our communities, regardless of what anyone else is doing. Coordinated and concerted action makes the difference between responses to action and sustainable results. Stop being reactive and start being proactive. The choice is yours.