Nichelle Hayes

Nichelle M. Hayes

Aug. 23rd marks the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. A few years ago, this is not a day I would have reflected on personally nor discussed with other people. Over the last few years my understanding of African enslavement (stealing of humans) and its subsequent ramifications (redlining, mass incarceration, etc.) on the United States of America has shifted and deepened. I now understand that unless we confront the ugliness of enslavement and how this “free labor” built the USA, we as a country will never be able to heal from that tragic past and its current implications.

Our current political climate as well as the current occupant in the White House would lead one to believe that we are living in different times. I would counter that this has always been America. The difference now is that we have an individual with a bully pulpit who is inspiring a segment of our population to verbalize and act out their long held beliefs about Black and brown people in America. The current discussion of the changing demographics in America is striking fear in the hearts of many white Americans. Their fear comes from the possibility of being treated the same way underrepresented groups in have been treated for hundreds of years. 

On Dec. 1, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent. The resolution cited the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society.

The theme for this decade is “People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development.” I have not seen the United States put any concrete actions into place that speak to this proclamation. Unless you think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addresses the full and equal participation of Black Citizens. I would strongly disagree with that. 

The year 2019 marks the 400th-year observation of people of African Descent being brought to the shores of what would later become the United States of America. During this process we were stripped of our culture, language and families. All in an effort to build America and make many people wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. You can’t tell the story of the USA without including people of color. We tilled the soil, planted the crops, built housing and fought for the freedom of our country without earning any of the benefits of that labor. The first person who died while fighting for the independence of the 13 Colonies from Britain was Crispus Attucks, a Black man.  Since that time, Black Americans have served in the military to protect the rights of others while they were denied those same rights. 

If we don’t learn about the past we are doomed to repeat it. I encourage everyone, Blacks and whites, to learn about the real history of America. Not just the fairy tale. 

In the words of Langston Hughes, “I, too, am America.”

Nichelle M. Hayes is a native of Indianapolis. She is an information professional, a genealogist, civic leader and a life longlearner.

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