In this silent space, this still moment I look at a picture of myself eating while dining with friends on a night out. It’s a simple picture with nothing special about it except the casualness of my contentment. In the picture I sit at a table eating amongst Whites, Blacks, Mexicans, and other races. I dine on roasted chicken on nice white plates with heavy shinny silverware. I’m relaxed within myself as I sit enjoying a good time. While sitting across my bed observing this picture, an awe-consuming recollection comes to mind. The picture had so much to say about me with out saying a word. In this photograph I sit with no worry, no prejudices , no shame. No inhibited feelings, no guilt, or sense of being less then. I am simply me. At the same time, within this same photograph, I sit with an ignorance. An ignorance that many of my ancestors never had the pleasure of experiencing in their lifetime.
If you go back in time it’s not rocket science to know that some of my not to distant relatives were slaves. The word, itself, carries a negative vibration when mentioned. To be a slave meant to work from sun up to sun down with no pay, to endure harsh punishment and cruelty without any justice, to undergo criticism and belittlement with out defense. Although that description weighs heavy on the conscious, it still is a mild way of explaining the true meaning of what it meant to be a slave. So it is hard to imagine sometimes that, not to long ago, my Great-Great Grandfather was a slave. His son, my Great-Grandfather was also a slave who bore my Grandfather, who then bore my Father, who then in turn bore me. This is a parallel cycle extending through a large percentage of the entire African-American population. It is unfortunate, however, that the magnitude of this very significant circumstance my generation coincidentally overlooks. Although my Great-Great Grandfather is dead and gone, those hopes and wishes of a better more equal nation that he dreamed of in his days living, are actual realities that I live in today!
My Paternal Grandmother, who picked cotton for pay along side her grandmother while she was a young child, speaks of the long hot work days she endured before she finally moved to Cleveland as a young adult in the 1950's. Although my Grandmother has also passed I can still hear her words telling me how much she loved and adored me. For in me, she saw the future. A future full of ripe possibilities that await within the lifetime of the next generation that she helped produce. In her eyes I represent and carry the blissful freedom of innocent youth, blessed with the rich opportunities that could be unintentionally unappreciated. A freedom quit different from the one she experienced as a child growing up in Tennessee.
This freedom that I have been so ignorantly born into brings with it, a compelling sense of love and appreciate for the sacrifices that my Grandmother, as well as, my other ancestors endured only to provide for me a step forward, a chance, to have something better. Who can see this awesome love of hope, freedom, and tenderness for such a beautifully blessed child, but Grandma? Luckily for me, Grandma's love makes me conscious of this very significant awareness.
As I walk in this world, as I talk, eat, sleep, breath in this world I carry upon me the dreams of not just my own ancestor’s, but the hopes and aspirations of all who at one point were slaves in the land of the free... America. What a profound solitary discovery! It is true that you let go of the past to move forward, but you must also look BACK at the past to know how far you’ve come! A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say, and even though this may not be a thousand, it sure is a heck of a lot that were inspired from just a glance.
..........To be young, Black, and Free! What a Blessing!