Looking back over my childhood experiences with learning, I see people around me who taught me how to live a good life. Living a good life was a high priority for the older adults around me.
A good life meant having enough of all that we needed in order not to be driven to steal, not to feel inclined to curse the ground that we walked on daily, nor to regret the sun’s rising or its setting. Learning how to live life, or to develop the skills required to successfully live life, was not left to chance.
Each child in every family was a student from birth, and the mother was the first teacher, but not the only teacher. In my own family of my mom, dad, big brother, and I, there was an understanding that each person was expected to share what we knew with each other in order to make full use of our talents and skills.
These talents and skills were seen as God-given. We were expected to work to bring them forth from within ourselves to use in meeting life’s challenges as they came to us. I often heard that all we needed was available to us no matter what our age or stage in life.
Each person in the household made a contribution to the family. In my case, as the youngest one, I learned early that my contribution could be as simple as cooperating with the program of making the home a pleasant place to be, or by behaving in ways that made the work of others easy and efficient.
I contributed by smiling, by showing joyfulness and expressing gratitude through vibratory energy or words as I was able to. I learned that the family members would give me feedback immediately to show how much I contributed.
I learned by reading and understanding that feedback. I translated it into confidence about my obligations to work hard, create, adjust, and learn and teach what we did that got us up and over hard times.
Usually the positive feedback my father gave me far outweighed what I deserved, but as he said to me, “The value you bring to me is immeasurable, and only the Creator could know the importance of your mere presence in the world.” He and mother questioned me in words and deep, long, starring eyes.
They questioned me with deep, loving interest: “What did you come to earth to do?” “Who sent you?” “What did you bring from the other side?” The questions were statements affirming that as a child in this family it was important for me to see my connections to people who came before me and to know my life was filled with purpose.
Too often, when we asked American Black parents as well as children these same questions, they expressed sharp anger! They experienced deep fear and suspicion that we were trying to make them feel stupid. It takes a long time to become convincing of how much we value their lives and of the importance of how connected we all are to each other.
Cultural teachings often do not translate well from one language to another. This is made problematic for the African in America due to the stripping of language that occurred as a tactic Europeans used to enslave Africans. The enslavement was not just physical, but mental and spiritual as well.
The African was relegated to “Negro.” This word Negro means the Black without memory or intellectual heritage. The Black in America is now defined as one whose language has been erased. With erasure of origin comes permanent servanthood.
Dr, Carter G. Woodson states that when you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it.
You do not need to send him to the back door; he will go without being told. In fact, if there is no door he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.
Watching and examining my own parents’ methods of educating us at home, I am able to see with clarity that there are thoughts and images that the Creator has spun into existence through my parents for me. Their cultural ways of parenting prepared me for understanding the meaning of divine intervention.
I plainly see the web of relationships; the flow of interactions was intended to awaken us to our capacity for endurance. The home is a classroom. Members of the family are students and teachers. Each experience is part of a lesson plan.
The experiences are also meant to reveal to us the insights which our physical eyes cannot see or ears cannot hear. My parents implemented a system for me to develop the intellect and the spirit that is driven by the African system of thinking, a system that pre-existed the European system of thinking. I contend that the African system of thinking is still instinctively practiced by most African people.
Again, I propose the approach for educating our children begin with a serious intellectual development campaign for and with our adults. We are in an intellectual crisis and I am committed, as were my parents before me, to living the teachings with all of the children and grandchildren we are blessed with.
The problem of the future for the African in America is a cognitive one. We are forced to leave nothing to chance in what we know and what we need to know, generation after generation.
My lovely granddaughter recently graduated from DeLaSalle High School with a 3.5 grade point average and has been accepted into St. Thomas University. She is focused on studying to be a physician. Daily I watch her spirit.
She is pressured excessively to become something other than her own authentic self. Her work has been to look and listen for the intellectual, physical, mental, and emotional skills that keep her grounded in Blackness as a standard of excellence for her future. She is full of grace, gratitude, gentleness, all integral to her thriving as a powerful Black healer and leader for her people.
Atum Azzahir is the elder and founder of the Cultural Wellness Center in Minneapolis.