When I was a child, before I crested into the double digits, I went to an all-black elementary school. You could count the number of white students on one hand and this was well before the influx of Latin immigrants into my home town. You could stand on the vacant dirt field where we used to have recess and see the brick stoops of the nearest housing project, where most of the children lived.
Going to an all-black elementary school in a low income neighborhood was a unique experience. No one’s clothes were named brand. Jordans first came out in 1984, and no one had them. There was a computer lab that we visited occasionally; complete with large monitors with black screen and green type and floppy disks.
We played kickball on the dirt field, and a game called Run Fish Run, which equates to dodgeball, but the ones with the ball were sharks and the rest of us were fish trying not to get beaned in the head.
You were in the same class with the same students year after year; and if you got in trouble at school, there was no detention, there was no in-school suspension, you got your ass whooped by the teacher’s paddle of choice. That usually fixed any asshole behavior stemming from the students.
Black History Month was a thing. But it was not pushed, promoted or advertised. It definitely wasn’t in our socials studies books. Oour teachers took it upon themselves to instruct us in all of the accomplishments made by black people up to that point. Just for the record, we were still black people back then, we weren’t African-Americans yet, but I digress…
We learned about black celebrities. Richard Pryor, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin. Not only did we learn about their entertainment value, but we learned about their contributions. Granted, a lot of it may not have stuck. We were elementary school kids, of course, but what I have learned about teaching children of that age, is that it is definitely about seeding knowledge so that it may later bloom. At the point, the gold standard for the civil rights movement was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his “I have a dream speech.” It would be years before I learned about the contributions and sacrifices of Malcolm X and Medger Evers, just to name a few. Our teachers would wheel in the large tube television, high up on a platform, and they would show us the “Eyes on the Prize” series. Unfortunately, time was limited, so we were not able to watch all of it, but I was struck with the severity of the time. All that was suffered, just because of their skin. I was black, too, so was everyone else. Why was it an issue? And these were not re-enactments, nor were they re-imaginings. It was live footage from less than 25 years prior to where I was at that moment. Seeing that, help to instill in me an appreciation for history, and as I grew older, it made me understand why that appreciation was important. I will get back to that in a bit.
As I grew, it was time to leave elementary school, and all of black peers behind. I transitioned to a 60–30 middle school in a far more affluent neighborhood. 60% white and 30% black. And I could count the number of black teachers on one hand. It was a new experience. It was a little unsettling. Especially when I saw the behavior that children were able to get away with. The back talk and level of disrespect was hard to believe. There were no paddles. There were no sound ass whoopings, even when they were well-deserved. And there was no black history. I mean we studied some of the figure of black history: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, but there was no focus on the month as a whole. I have never truly experienced black history like I did when I was a child.
For a long time, it seems that there was no focus on any of it. No focus on race or inequality. Everything was all good. But the truth is that it wasn’t. It’s just that children stopped learning the signs and symptoms of a system that’s broken.
I have to say that the technological age has brought all of those signs and symptoms to the forefront. The unfair, unjust and illogical treatment of, not just blacks, but people of color in general is becoming more and more rampant. Leaving a trail of bodies and footage for those who are left behind to trace. And that’s why an understanding and appreciation for history is important. There are so many of us, especially the younger generations, where the abuses going on in the streets today are a completely novel concept, because there were no parents or educator to show them the path of breadcrumbs leading back to the past; a past where lives were put on the line for the social betterment and uplifting of all of us. In the 60s and 70s, they were no merely fighting for the lives and liberties of blacks, but for everyone.
The trail of breadcrumbs is so cold, that many of us don’t know how to stop what’s happening. We have no clue. And when faced with the solution, many have no will to carry it out.
There are far more distractions than ever before. Television can show us the joys and horror of a fictional world and slowly numb us to the joys and horrors of the real world. The computer, the internet and the smart phone for all their benefits can keep us blinded by its blue tinted light.
And if we do seek the information, the knowledge of the current, it is so clouded in minutia that it’s hard to discern what is real and what is corrupt, money laden propaganda.
I don’t have many solutions. But I’ll give you the few that swim around in my mind.
First, we have to set about the hard work, of rising above the political and social propaganda so that we can educate ourselves to the true state of our world. And use the knowledge to raise those who would properly represent us and then exercise our hard-fought right to vote. Vote in the statesman who seek the betterment of us all; not just black, or white, but all of the sentient beings who exist from border to border.
Next, we have to follow the breadcrumbs to our past. We have to seek and understand the atrocities that have come before, because they are keys to what is happening now. And they very well may provide a frame work to how to overcome to trials that currently weigh us down. We have to find the truth to our history, before it can be washed away. And once we find it, we have to consume it in order to fortify our resolve to create a better future, and our vigilance to maintain that future.
And last, we have to teach. We have to teach, as I was taught as an elementary student in the 80s. We have to show the ills and corrections of the past, and the ills and corrections of the current, in hopes to prevent ills that will need correcting in the future.
So, who do we teach?
We teach those school children that are in our grasp. There is no doubt that racists, sexist and elitists are teaching their progeny the lessons of bigotry and greed at an early age. We must instruct in the lessons of vigilance and hope. We have to teach what was and what is, in order to arm them for an uncertain future. We cannot allow younger generations to be distracted and blindsided again.
Black history is American history, just like Mexican history, Native American History and the history of so many other cultures, societies and nationalities. They all have converged here in these United States. They deserved to be recognized, studied, consumed and understood. We have to follow the trails that each piece of history have left us, so that our vision can remain clear. We can no longer afford to lose the trail of breadcrumbs in a forest of complacency. The stakes are too high, and the losses will be too great.