African American history: It's the journey
February. Black History Month. The annual recognition and celebration of African American culture and heritage.
Against all odds, obstacles and oppression, every generation of African Americans has been sustained by faith and empowered by the favor of God. As I reflect upon the indelible imprint that Black history has interwoven throughout the tapestry of America's story, I am reminded that history and especially Black history, is about so much more than one special day, week, or monthlong celebration. It's about the journey.
It is the journey that began with a nation of people who were direct descendants of kings and queens. A nation of people who were self-sufficient, industrious, self-governing and thriving in their native land. A nation of people who were betrayed, invaded, savagely abducted and battered into submission. Enslaved in foreign lands. The journey.
As I approach a milestone referenced in Holy Scripture, Psalm 90:10, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten," I find myself reflecting upon my own journey. I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. My mother was a laundress with a "limited" high school graduate education. The "colored school" only went to the 10th grade. My father was a hardworking laborer with a seventh-grade education. The journey.
My parents instilled in my siblings and me that we were each born with a Godly purpose. As such, we are each also held accountable for the contributions we make toward the greater good of society and regardless of our circumstances. The journey.
Our circumstances. We were not wealthy by any worldly measure, but there was always an overflowing abundance of spiritual wealth and wisdom in our home.
My father is a World War II veteran. When he returned to Birmingham, honorably discharged and still in his military uniform, he was kicked off the streetcar because he would not move to the back. In high school, I rode the city bus to school. I cannot fully explain how it felt to board the front of the bus, pay my fare, and get off the bus before it even moved. Then, re-board the bus at the back door and remain standing behind a designated yellow line even when there were empty seats in the front of the bus.
I'll never forget the earlier days of integration on the bus. One day, a bus driver slowed down his bus as he drove by, then he allowed all of the white kids on the bus to spit on us through the open windows. The journey.
I studied diligently in school, believing that education was a key to success. I still maintain that value today. I am troubled when Black and Brown children do not have the same educational opportunities as others.
The onset of the pandemic cast yet another spotlight on the educational inequities that exist, including the massive digital divide. Computers, tablets, and internet connections were not readily accessible to many minority students. Remote learning presented new, seemingly insurmountable challenges for some students. Many of them needed a more structured environment, than the one that was available to them at home, in order to optimize their remote learning experience. The journey.
Throughout the year of COVID-19, inequities continued to mount. People of color lost their lives to the pandemic at disproportionate rates. And now, because of horrific past transgressions, people of color are mistrustful and afraid to get vaccinated. We must stay prayerful and trust God in order to overcome these fears, and seek to be vaccinated as soon as possible. The journey.
As we cross the threshold of a new White House administration, I am encouraged and urge us all to move forward. The protections provided for in our Constitution are for all people. We must learn to respect each other. I am grateful for the collective progress we've made on our journey. I am grateful for Vice President Kamala Harris and young poet Amanda Gorman.
I am grateful for local leaders like Councilman Corey Dixon and Councilwoman Tish Powell. I am grateful for the churches, synagogues and individuals who believe in the Word of God and seriously hold themselves accountable for fulfilling His commandment to "love one another." The journey.
As I think about the many personal journeys celebrated in February, I can't help but think about what I want others to speak of me when I can no longer speak for myself. I want them to say that I worked hard to make a difference. I tried to be fair and just. I showed love and not hate. I spread joy and not sorrow. I was kind and considerate of others. If all of us can commit to these principles, then surely one day the struggle and strife will cease and everyone will be vested in the journey.
• The Rev. Dr. Nathaniel L. Edmond is retired pastor of Second Baptist Church of Elgin and a member of the Daily Herald Editorial Board's advisory sounding board.