February is a month of pride for me and I imagine most African Americans. Most of us acknowledge it proudly as the month that was officially recognized in 1976 by the government during the U.S. Bicentennial, when “Negro History Week” was expanded to “Black History Month”. As a personal observance, I, like many (I hope) spend quite a bit of time listening to, reading or watching videos of our former leaders – primarily my favorites, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. This past week, I’ve concentrated on reading and listening to Martin Luther King’s response Letter to the Clergymen, the letter from which his speech Letter from a Birmingham Jail was based. His letter mesmerized me. As concise as his words were, I got caught up in the way that he chose to illustrate his responses to each point of criticism; and he articulated it in ways that left no room for debate as to why lawful or not, the stance and actions he took were the only logical and effective responses amid the circumstances. His letter was brilliant. Another brilliant mind of the time was Malcolm X. I watched and listened to a few of the videos of Malcolm X as he sat in one “hot seat” after another, on panels with aloof and in some cases exasperated Caucasian male panelists, trying to trip up and or discredit him. He never lost his cool, he simply countered with an explanation to their questions with the same patience one would use with a small child.
Though there were more than just these two, these particular men stand out for me because both knew with a certainty that they wouldn’t live into old age – and they were (seemingly) at peace with that. They weren’t just brave, they were leaders because they were unflinchingly focused; they lead by example and expected their flock to acknowledge and follow in kind. Many did, thankfully – and we have those every man and woman heroes to thank for their faith and bravery during a time when information wasn’t instantaneous – and gratification was a long-suffering collective effort.
I belong to a few book clubs on social media that are primarily populated with African Americans that have posted snippets of Black history facts: posts celebrating our historically amazing resilience, ingenuity, bravery, talent and intelligence. Other posts that are simply commentary – reflections about how we as a people are faring since the majority of these contributions occurred decades ago. I read and digest these tidbits, and there seems to be a frequent general consensus: weve made some gains since, but we are losing our footing and collectively, our focus. We don’t seem to know how to fight anymore. We are becoming impotent because we no longer have the leadership to guide us. We are surrounded by a growing segment of our population that has no appreciation for the struggle that has allowed them the instant gratification and freedom that not that long ago, were only dreamt of by their grandmothers, or great grandmothers.
Melancholy is the feeling I get when during the same month, no matter what “mode” of transport I use, whether physical or virtual, I’m hit with a very uncomfortable realization: in our post-racial era, there don’t seem to be any worthy predecessors. That in itself is probably not as scary as what has me even more disturbed: Our community hasn’t had a true leader in decades. As a result, we are faltering and often times appear to be standing still when we should be advancing or at the very least holding up a shield to protect the gains made thus far.
I did receive a glimmer of hopefulness while watching a speech given by Michelle Alexander as she talked about the “New Jim Crow” – not because that’s something to be happy about – but she is young and gifted, intent on disseminating information that needs to be widely dispersed, especially in our communities. She’s passionate about distributing information that more than likely, we wouldn’t be getting if we were waiting for today’s “leaders”.
I’m hoping that glimmer will soon expand to something bigger and increasingly more visible with each passing day. We can’t allow all of the hard work, harder times and the unselfishness of those before us to wither and become forgotten history.