Today’s post has been compiled from a series of reflective tweets I posted yesterday while I researched my family’s past.
Doing research on my family tree and, as I look at census records, it is easy to see how we, as Americans, are where we are today in terms of race relations. I’m looking at Eastern NC records from 1870 (naming my great-great-great-grandfather), which recorded 40 people from 9 households. There were two landowning families, both who are white. The remaining were black famers, undoubtedly sharecropping at that point in time. So, when certain American citizens say we must make America great again, I disrespectfully object to that sentiment.
As I look back at my family’s records, stretching well into the 1800s, I can truly say I am my American-born ancestors’ wildest dream. Many of them were sharecroppers, enslaved humans, or domestic workers. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But imagine how great America could’ve been had it given a damn about their imaginations. Imagine if those black women and black men had been respected. Am I perfect? No. But I am a college-educated free man. I am entrepreneurial, a homeowner, a freethinker, and a heck of an artist.
Seriously, many of my ancestors, as recent as grandparents, didn’t make it to high school. I’ve spent years conversing with and sapping wisdom from family members who never saw the 9th grade (or even the 6th). And I’m thankful to have had them see me graduate from HS and college. Sometimes, I wonder what I did to deserve this. And then I realize the answer is, “Nothing.” But I’m here at this point in history b/c that much more is expected of me. My success isn’t about me. It’s about setting my legacy up for something greater in honor of theirs. They didn’t have the opportunities I’ve had. They didn’t have the access to education. They had to stop going to school in the spring in preparation for harvest season. Their childhood and teenage summers were spent toiling in fields while mine were spent learning math and science at the Summer Institute at Durham Academy.
Make making your ancestors proud a priority.