When my mother told me to watch Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s PBS series "The African Americans," I didn't realize I would be learning about African American veterans. Today of all days, is a day to honor them. But my words seem so insignificant and trivial in comparison to the risks our ancestors made in order to gain freedom. I mean, we have to pray it doesn't rain or snow, or that it isn't too hot or humid, so people will go out to vote, when our ancestors risked their very lives just to cast theirs. It reminds me of a worship song that asks, "So what can I say? What can I do? To offer this heart of mine, completely to you." The song speaks of our inability to thank our Creator for his love and sacrifice for our eternal lives, and yet, I feel this same way for my ancestors.
What can I really say to thank them and honor them on this day?
How do I honor Robert Smalls, a slave born in 1839, who, as Gates described, "quietly observed" the captain of the Confederate transport ship, and commandeered it by mimicking the captain, and freeing himself and his family from slavery? Learning about Robert Smalls made me remember all the crude jokes I've heard comedians make about slavery when they talk about "I could'n'a been no slave. Them people must'a been crazy to sit up there and take that mess. Not me! I would'a ran!" Well, I guess I have answered my own question because one way we can honor him, and the millions of others who risked their lives, is to educate ourselves and stop the ignorant jokes and crass, dumb comments. To all the people who've made that remark, you should be delighted to know that many slaves did run. In fact, a half a million black slaves gambled everything on escape so you and I can have the lives we do today. Yes, let's honor them by educating ourselves.
But it's not just for our brother Robert. There are countless other stories.
Gates on to tell us about Mary Peake who didn't think it was just enough to get the body physically free from slavery, she also emphasized liberating the mind. Although Peake could have been jailed, or worse yet, killed, she also risked everything, but this time not to escape slavery. She risked everything to teach runaway slaves how to read and write. You have no idea how it grieves my spirit to learn of my ancestors who did everything to gain what we throw away today without a thoutght. My uncle's joke was, "If you want to hide anything from a black person, put it in a book," and it still rings true today. But this was not always our story. Our ancestors shared clothes, stayed awake in the wee hours of the night, and played dumb while all the while they could read and write, just to free their minds.
I know we have modern day war heroes and veterans who have served, and are serving our country. My own daughter is one of them. I love her dearly and thank them for their sacrifice. But due to the day and age in which we live, not only is my love sufficient, so too are all the other luxuries my daughter has been afforded. Her army base is unlike anything I have ever seen. She, and all the other soldiers, have every conceivable convenience they need. Today is an important day to honor them. Yes, it is. But I also feel my daughter has been honored by God and a time by which she can turn on a faucet and have unending streams of running water. My daughter, and all other veterans of today, can see to her rights being maintained as a woman, and as a black woman with ease and efficiency. We are not living with the traumas of our past, although we may still be living through them.
So today, just for me, isn't about our modern day veterans.
For me, today is about the veterans of the American Civil War who had a vision that extended far beyond their day. They knew black folk should be allowed to read and write. They knew black folk should be free. They knew black folk would have victory. So I honor them today by sitting in my PJs writing on my MacBook in my 5-bdrm house drinking coffee with the heat running and my children safe and sound. They fought for me--they fought for us--over a hundred years ago so we could do just what we are doing now: enjoying freedom.
Have we made them proud? Or, are their souls distressed by the new forms of contraband that plague our communities?
When I think of today's reality TV programs and the images we see of modern day blacks, have we become the people our ancestors gave their lives for us to be? The nauseating reality of that answer sickens me. We have to do better! It seems as if our guts and butts have become the gods and goddesses of today when that was never our focus. Our ancestors did not give their lives so that we could eat all the fried chicken we wanted and parade around with our butts sticking out with the longest lashes and weaves. Has our quest for beauty, fame, and riches become our new slave masters?
I know the song about peace on earth and I know it has to begin with me. So I will continue to work on my own transformation and I will do that by parking me and my daughters in front of my TV every Tuesday at 8PM CST so that I can learn about the many rivers my ancestors crossed who gave their lives for me.
Robert Smalls' life didn't end with him just sailing off into the sunset either. He would actually go on to become a politician. Can you believe that? He also served in the Navy and then the Army, and was the first black captain of a vessel in the military! This man is just absolutely amazing to me. Reading his biography, and learning about the history of African Americans it's as if I find myself. I think, "Ah, that's why I'm the way I am" because much of my behavior and thought processes is in my genetic memory. But it's not just mine, it's in all of ours, but we need to learn about our past so we can know who we are today. We have to wake up the radical giants in our consciousness who said, "I will learn to read and write even if I have to die trying!" And even stronger, "Me and my family will be free!" We have to discover our power to know who we can be, and who we are today.
Who are we today?
That is still unfolding.
As for me and mine, I plan to add to their legacy.
I honor our African American veterans today.
About me: I'm a writer, fitness teacher, wife, and mother of six daughters who loves God and loves the history of my people and my mission in life is to inspire others to embrace health and fitness. We are all created with purpose, and I have a passion to help others uncover, and discover theirs. From being overweight to skinny as a rail from Crohn's disease, I know what it feels like not to be happy with the skin you're in, and if you have weight loss goals, or health issues, I can help you. Be sure to like the "In FITNESS an In Health" Fan Page on Facebook, and for information about The Challenge that dramatically improved my health, visit my website. Remember, you are stronger than you think, and it's okay to affirm NOT to live in sickness, but instead to live,"In FITNESS and In Health."