The passing of Chokwe Lumumba, William Worthy, Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Elombe Braath, Sam Greenlee and Vincent Harding in the last few months marks a turning of the page for Black people in this country. If you don’t know the history and the accomplishment of these great people, each having contributed a unique page to the struggle of the former slave to be seen simply as human and be afforded the rights and dignity of human beings, then get to know them.
They were all activists in their own right: a novelist, a theologian and liberationist, a warrior poet, an anti-imperialist radical journalist, a staunch pan-Africanist, a poet laureate and a ground-breaking politician. They have left a gaping hole. Their legacies await fulfilling.
These were real somebodies, who lived their lives dedicated to the proposition that all human beings are created equal and thus should enjoy freedom, liberty and dignity. They used their fleshy canvasses demonstrating that life — real life, real living — should be spent looking out for more than one’s self. And they didn’t just look out for their tribe, as wanting as it was.
Yes a page has been turned. A new marker has been made; the torch has been officially passed. The invisible baton — though often ignored by this more comfortable and most lost and most confused inheritors of the race — awaits those who would dare grasp it. It awaits those who know what I know: that we have come this far by faith. It awaits those who somehow instinctively know that we have received far too little, suffered far too much for far too long to quit now.
Beyond that, it should be apparent to all race runners, whether they knowingly take part or not, have been signed up by the invisible hand of history. Each of you was signed up by the meanness of those who refuse to hire us though we are qualified. You have been signed up by those who have locked us out of jobs, locked us into slums, locked us in their jails and even in the worst environments.
This system has saddled Black folks with bad loans, bad health, the worst food, and even the most menial jobs. They have underemployed us, undereducated us, underdeveloped us and over exposed us to entertainment that amounts to nothing more than manure. They have even promoted the most individualistic, misogynistic, murderous, materialistic mess one can put a beat to and they feed this rhythmic mantra to our unsuspecting brains through the omnipresent ear bud, the new form of drug needle.
And they do this while hyping our shortcomings and highlighting our iniquities. And if that wasn’t bad enough they offer our young fake escapes (you too can become a professional athlete or a rap star) and fake sedatives from this living hell called crack, cocaine, heroin and yes alcohol.
Of course you can refuse the baton. If this does not concern you or touch you, then all is well. Maya, Chokwe, William, Vincente, Elombe, Sam and Baraka don’t call to you. Unfortunately there are too many of us sipping latte’s pretending all is fine, while many of our brothers and sisters are left behind, locked up and locked out, locked in and sealed in, shut out and even told to shut up.
“Stop your whining,” some of us say to our lesser-off brothers and sisters, while we line your pockets with the extra profits made off their super exploitation. Some of us won’t pick up the baton, because we are spellbound and have misplaced our hope in a brown-skinned president, who has made it clear that he is your color, but not your kind.
We have been sidetracked by the lie that the modicum of freedom and rights we have obtained came from the suites rather than the streets. Too many of us won’t run the right kind of race because we are still sipping the Democratic Party Kool-aid. If the democrats were the answer we would have smooth sailing by now. Surely we have given them more than enough chances and time to make their case. And speaking of cases, we manage to catch many, but we win few.
But the clock has struck, the starter gun is about to go off, alarms should definitely be ringing, a new line has been drawn in the sand, and yet another leg of the race is to be run. Your challenge — young African, young African American, young people — is to pick up the baton. Learn from those who have gone before. Now take your place in line!
In the final words of her eulogy of Coretta Scott King we must say like Maya, “I won’t turn back. No I will go. I shall go. I’ll see what the end is going to be.”
Mel Reeves welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.