Living Black History: Memory, Obligation, and Preservation

By: Bakari Sanyu

OpEd to the Editor

It is first and foremost our community’s responsibility to remember our collective history and to learn its many lessons of dignity, self-determination, and struggle.

Each year in February during Black History Month, it is our ancestral duty to rise and answer the call to commit time to learn about our past and honor our Ancestors, as well as to extract lessons from our past so that we may better engage our present and improve it. And we must use our own history to conceive and cooperatively strive towards a more productive future that is forged in the most ethical and effective African way. Our forebears provided a legacy to embrace and left a model for our community to engage. However, it is still dependent upon us to individually and collectively choose to rise and tell our own unique complex narrative, present varied uplifting dignity-affirming imagery, promote positive social cohesion, as well as reject, challenge and eliminate self-destructive, self-debasing, and self-erasure behaviors that result from historical amnesia, cultural alienation, fractured identities, and shattered consciousness.

Our history does not begin in the Holocaust of TransSaharan or TransAtlantic Human Enslavement. Instead the overall context which must be emphasized is that it was imposed systemic enslavement that savagely interrupted African history’s millennia. Centuries of TransAtlantic Enslavement resulted in the widespread forced dispersal of people of African descent throughout the Western Hemisphere. And this is what has produced Afro-Panamanians, Afro-Guyanese, Afro-Cubans, Afro-Venezuelans, Afro-Puerto Ricans, Afro-Brazilians, Afro-Belizeans, the Afro-Caribbean Islands populations, Afro-Nicaraguans, African Americans, Afro-Hondurans, Afro-Mexicans, Afro-Columbians, etc. These areas were where the various European ships repeatedly docked to historically de-board their vessels overloaded with various captive ethnic groups which were ruthlessly removed from the African continent. Giving thought to the long-term cultural and psychological damage to our overall community’s well-being and infrastructure development demands that we first recognize that assessment of these historical conditions is not a new, isolated, or coincidental phenomena. Our collective community’s task is to preserve, build on, contribute to, exponentially expand, and continue the unfinished work left in the immense sacrifices, struggle, and legacies of our esteemed Ancestors that addressed the debilitating conditions which were created in this history of forced dispersal.

Our esteemed Ancestor Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875 – 1950), is a pivotal figure that arose to address the absolute need for our community to preserve its “collective memory”. Dr. Woodson is cited as the founder of what initially began as Black History Week in 1926. His pioneering life’s legacy grew to become a Black History Month commemoration in 1976. Dr. Woodson as a historian, author, and journalist noted that African American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them”. The danger of leaving this situation unaddressed was expressed by the keen insight of the founder of Black History Month in the following quotations:

– “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history”

– “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

– “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 back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Accordingly, Dr. Woodson demonstrated self-determination and took the initiative to contribute to community uplift by deliberately writing about the history of African Americans, and by joining with other committed individuals and organizations to collectively work to document and preserve our history, with the establishment of study groups for research and publication, as well as proceeded to circulate the compiled information to the masses through many Black owned newspapers and magazines. This model of possibility and excellence provided by Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s inspiring legacy, reminds our community that we each have the capacity, duty, and wherewithal to contribute to community uplift, and our efforts can successfully change prevailing conditions if they are undergirded with self-knowledge, cultural values, focused priorities, self-determination, commitment, and continuous action.

Now fast forward to Year 2020 and we are continuing to honor as a collective tradition, Black History Month’s purpose of celebrating our achievements, reaffirming dignity, renewing cultural consciousness, and uplifting community service. During Black History Month, a central message of Dr. Maulana Karenga,

Creator of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, is that:

– “It is our ancestral duty to set aside time and space to celebrate ourselves IN history and AS history. For we are producers and products of this sacred narrative, and the subject and center of the most ancient of human histories. … And we seek and speak truth, do and demand justice, and struggle constantly to have our lives unfold and flourish as a worthy and seamless whole.”

A valuable lesson for Black History Month from Dr. Martin Luther King’s teachings, is that we must always struggle and work for ourselves, history and humanity in such a way that:

– “when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say ‘there lived a great people – a Black people – who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.’ This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”

Progress and social change originate with individual struggle and sacrifice, and then radiates outward to the family and to our community for organized and sustained collective action. Living Black History requires that we begin action in our own community by presenting, supporting, and propelling forward REOCCURRING culturally affirming activities, programs, services, events, celebrations, festivals, marketplaces, and functions via Black-owned and operated media genres. Use these resources to create the much-needed space to exert influence and stature for circulating and elevating our dignity-affirming films, music, literature and cultural artwork that are continually needed to educate, inspire, and transform our community.

Living Black History is validated when we decorate our surroundings with heritage affirming images that reflect ourselves, and actively patronize our community’s newspaper, stores, restaurants, shops, contractors, and vendor services. Black History is internalized when we persistently work to engage and embody the BESTof our collective global history, heritage, African culture, consciousness, traditions, values, and people in thought, speech, actions, and deeds, and extract its many lessons as a necessary, urgent, and prioritized way of life. Institutionalize Black History by owning our community’s properties, businesses, companies, facilities, enterprises, factories, networks, centers, and infrastructure, and instill this practice in our youth as a collective financial empowerment mantra for the establishment of an economic base.

Our overall condition will change when enough individuals and families embrace cultural self-knowledge to develop priorities that transform their self responsibility, self-validation, and self-image. Join us on Tuesday – February 18th, Wednesday – February 19th, and Thursday – February 20th, for a FREE “Cultural Images Matter” Community Cinema that will occur from 4:30pm to 6:30pm. The film screenings will occur at the Bakersfield Senior Center located at 530 4th Street, Bakersfield, California and refreshments will be provided. The Black History Month Community Cinema is sponsored by The Sankofa Collective and the Bakersfield Senior Center. We look forward to having you join us and view a film screening with our community to learn about and be inspired by the vastness of Black History. The Our-Story cinema is intended to refocus our memory and obligation on creating and supporting cultural efforts which serve as a catalyst for social transformation, as well as preserve dignity-affirming self knowledge and positive self-imagery in our community.

Bakari Sanyu
Director, The Sankofa Collective
A community-based cultural education organization.
Telephone or Text: (661) 319-7611