When I was a substitute teacher, I remember talking to a class after a 14 year old girl announced that she had just found out she was pregnant. Many of her classmates celebrated with her and then went on to be misbehaved. They were very disrespectful and seemed to have an “I don’t care about anything” attitude. I decided to venture away from the lesson plan and started talking about Black History.
I mentioned the fight our ancestors fought to take us from slavery to freedom, and asked the class why our enslaved foreparents cried and died and prayed. I asked them why Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and others died? I asked them what they were fighting for? To my surprise, the mother-to-be raised her hand.
“Martin Luther King died so we could have fun.”
I never forgot that answer. As a matter of fact, it disturbs me today as much as it disturbed me when I first heard it. And although she does not speak for her entire generation, the actions of many Black youth say that they agree with the honest, yet ignorant comment she made.
As Black History Month comes to a close again, I find I am becoming increasingly annoyed with comments on progress and how much we’ve advanced as a people. In no way am I suggesting that we have not progressed—and that the generations before us have accomplished nothing; I am, however, asserting that we are not were we should be, and too much focus on “progress” will give the false impression that we have arrived or attained all of what our foremothers and fathers were fighting for. It will make us complacent when we should be fighting.
James Weldon Johnson penned the words of the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. To me, this is a song about persistence. Lift your voice and sing UNTIL the entire earth rings of the song you are singing… UNTIL the heavens ring with the harmonies of the song you are singing… a song of liberty… a song of faith and a song of hope. Let the song echo so loudly that the melody reaches the height of the listening skies and resound loud as the rolling sea. This is a message about determination. But the line that touches me the most is: “Let us march on ‘til victory is won.”
In short, the victory has not been won, but we have stopped marching. I want to tell the upcoming generation and any others who have slipped into a coma-like state from having become too comfortable is, “Wake Up! Stand Up! Look Up! Move Up!” We are not where we should be. We are not where God has ordained us to be. But we will never get there waiting for someone else to take us there. We must be persistent. We must be determined. We must strive aggressively and intentionally toward meeting our highest potential… and that’s a standard set by us—by our history—and NOT a standard set by another group people.
We’ve been there before. We can get there again… We must get there again. The future rests upon our arrival.