Choosing to be Black Living History

won’t you celebrate with me

 

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; 

come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

American poet, author and educator

Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

 

Sometimes I feel a little bittersweet about celebrating Black History.

Publicly.

Only in February.

It’s a lot of work trying to share a snapshot of your entire family legacy—in one month—no, sorry (we got the short month) more like 28 days.

But we do and we do it well.

Kinda like how we learned how to make a dollar out of 15 cents.

Or soulful family dinner sensations of oxtails, neckbones, and gizzards—once the scraps from the Master’s table—now delicatessen stars on our favorite Food Network shows. 

Hot water cornbread, tea cakes—we put the “sweet” in tea—do you hear me?!

Masterfully we have had to perfect the skill set of survival; resilience, intelligence, and creativity underground, through “black only” entries and on Capitol steps of this nation’s courts. 

Proudly I’m from this rootstock—now extending into my own sprig of family and community branches. A living legacy is running through my veins—they say up to 4-7 generations deep. This infusion of strength, courage and yes, even fear of my ancestors’ DNA of traumas, wins, and magic I be—all stirring inside of me. Sometimes masterfully dismantling visible and invisible chains of whiteness. Other times loving only family or Affinity out loud—on purpose and unapologetically. 

Celebrating that every day something either structural, physical, social, or spiritual tried to kill us but didn’t win. Thank you, Momma Clifton.

But I just won’t remember Black History—this where I’m from and who I am to just  look good in front of company. I chose to celebrate Black History all year, every day when nobody else is watching.

I chose to celebrate Black History all year, every day when nobody else is watching.

I celebrate when the coils of my kinky strands snap back and retract—reminding me that the origin of my beauty never needed product or approval by dominant culture’s standards. Just a whole lot of love, sunshine, and the purest of coconut oil and shea butter has always been enough.

I remember Black history every time the chuckle in my own voice rings of Cecil Mae—my grandmother, soon to celebrate her centenarian birthday this Juneteenth. Or my deep-down longing for adventure and private love of riding into sunsets on horses, reflecting back my mother’s little girl footprints in the country with Blacky and Misty, her beloved family pets.

Black History isn’t just a month, a series of textbooks or the ringing of the school bell to get permission to hold assemblies in our children’s suburban auditoriums (but we do that too, trust me, I’ve had my share). Black his and her stories are a living narrative—a flexing, moving, breathing anthology of an incredible people(s)—my people.

One we are rewriting, reimagining and re-anchoring again and again.

We look back to remember and celebrate—yet this celebration came at a cost.

The cost of thousands who gave up their lives, their hopes, their dreams so I could have mine.

Celebration of Black History to me is a reminder to look back as I move forward, just like the Sankofa bird. To study the memoirs, the spirituals, the escapes, and integrate them for this present moment.

To remember how my Ancestors chose to live and risked that choice to stay free. I honor their legacy by staying as resilient, free, and as whole as I can possibly be for myself, my family, and my chapter in (Black) history. 

Each month. Not just in February. 

Velynn Brown
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