Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is always a good time to reflect on where we’re at as a country. The progress we’ve made or haven’t made since Dr. King’s life. How well we do with regard to civil rights of humankind is a good barometer of how far we’ve come.
Instead of focusing on white supremacy and institutional racism and this country’s inequitable treatment of Black Americans, I’m going to focus on how amazing we are and how much we’ve flourished in this country in spite of the forces that work against us.
The progress Black Americans have made since enslavement in 1619 is nothing short of extraordinary. Often, we think of history through a modern-day lens. We know where Africa and North America are on a map. Although we didn’t experience it, we can visualize being kidnapped from our country and transported to a different land and imagine the fear and trauma one experienced traveling the Middle Passage. But we didn’t experience it. Most of us don’t know that kind of fear or despair. Many of us never venture outside of our neighborhood, let alone the city. Think about how you feel when you get lost in an unknown part of town — the town you live in, where you’re no more than mere minutes away from home. Now, think about when you have no idea where you are, how far away from home you are or how to get back. On top of that, there are people whose skin may be similar to yours, but you don’t speak the same language. Then, there are people whose skin is dissimilar to yours and you don’t speak their language either, but they act as if you should know it as they bark orders at you.
Our ancestors overcame this. They learned the language, although, for the most part, it wasn’t actually taught to them. They endured backbreaking work and still found a way to find some semblance of a life. They still sang songs, danced and laughed. They took the scraps of food they were given and found not only sustenance, but ways to make the food taste like something.
I’ve heard some people are embarrassed by slavery. They think because our ancestors could be enslaved that somehow made them (and us) inferior. I vehemently disagree. It shows our resilience and brilliance. The stories of enslaved men who bought their freedom and that of their family’s are astounding. These men were smart enough to figure out how to get paid and then patient enough to purchase their freedom. Eventually, it wasn’t a few here and there who could buy freedom; enslaved people convinced their captors to end the institution of slavery.
The end of slavery ushered in a new era of indentured servitude known as sharecropping. That didn’t stop us. Neither did Jim Crow. We found ways to become a doctor who was the first to successfully perform open-heart surgery, lawyer who would one day sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, or graduate with a doctorate degree from Harvard University.
In the words of Sean “Puffy” Combs, we can’t stop, won’t stop. Four hundred years later, the descendants of those enslaved people are business owners and executives, millionaires and the influencers of all things pop culture globally. For those who don’t know much about time, 400 years sounds like a long time. It’s nothing when you think about how long this planet has been in existence.
In honor of Dr. King, I’m going to focus on our greatness in spite of all that we’ve been through and are going through. I know we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve come so far. We should honor our progress.