THE STRENGTH OF THE BLACK FAMILY
The Black family in America has overcome many trials and tribulations. It took strong individuals to withstand the horrors of the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas, which often lasted more than two months. The subhuman treatment they received at the hands of their European captors required strong bodies, willful minds, and determined spirits to survive. The African holocaust was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 70 million Africans over a 250- year period, perhaps the most shameful episode of man’s inhumanity against man in world history. Chattel slavery was a cruel and spirit-crushing practice that sought to destroy the African in America’s concept of kinship and family values. But buried deep in their hearts and propelled by psychic memory was knowledge of how to live a life of dignity in spite of abuse and harsh treatment. We are the heirs of that legacy of strength and will and courage.
Some say that slavery destroyed the Black family. I disagree because when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves from physical bondage, the first thing that many Black folks did was to set out in search of family members that were sold away from them. Mothers went looking for sons and daughters. Husbands went looking for their wives and lost children. Sisters went looking for brothers. Aunts and uncles searched for nieces and nephews. Children cried out for parents whom they may have been privileged to see only a few times during precious moments of togetherness. In fact many American cities considered the situation enough of a public nuisance, ex-slaves wandering in search of relatives, that anti-loitering laws were passed to discourage Black folks from “hanging out” hoping to run into their lost loved ones. If slavery had in fact destroyed the Black family, newly freed slaves would have went looking for a job or a good time, instead they searched for family members.
Neither Reconstruction, Jim Crow, nor the Great Migration prevented Black folks from working to fortify bonds of family unity. Driven by the desire to improve their lives through better education, more job opportunities, or social and political gains, it was the extended family that served as the foundation of strength. The Black church was the only other institution that allowed Blacks an avenue for recognition and fulfillment. The family, however, was first. We cannot allow modern day demons to destroy the strength of the Black family. We can summon the same kind of wit, fortitude and drive our ancestors used to overcome drug addiction, unemployment, violence, poverty and any other threat to our family structure.
We can be self-determined, self-sustaining, and self-fulfilling by recognizing and utilizing the rich resources found within our own community. The growing popularity of Black family reunions presents a great opportunity for us to create our own wealth of genius and substance. Sure, it’s all right to get together to party and reminisce, but there should also be a time for getting down to business to discuss our spiritual, political, and economic futures. Many ministers and psychologists agree that the root cause of clinical depression and stagnation is lack of faith or absence of a belief system. Educating ourselves about political representation is a must in a democratic society. We owe our participation in the political process to lots of shed blood and lost lives. The right to vote was not a given, we had to fight for it. Families should consider starting investment clubs to improve future family financial well-being. Scholarship funds can be established to enable us offer financial assistance to our own young scholars.
The 21st century promises to challenge the Black family no less than the past centuries have. Learning from our past mistakes is a must if we want to avoid repeating the same old drama. My appeal is that we try to be a little more forgiving, a lot more loving; a little more understanding, a lot more patient; a little more vigilant, a lot more generous; a little more trusting, a lot more faithful; and somehow we will see things work out for the good.A recent Jet magazine article asked the question, ‘Are today’s youth more disrespectful?’ The overwhelming consensus was that, yes, today’s youth do appear to be more disrespectful than past generations. The ‘experts’ who were charged to respond to this question cited Black family breakdown, poor parental example and negative media images as major contributors to growing child disrespect. I am inclined to agree more with Bishop Arthur M. Brazier, pastor of Apostolic church of God in Chicago who says that children appear to be more disrespectful because they question, demand more clarity and are more knowledgeable than in yesteryear. Still, parents are challenged to protect their children and provide them with the tools they will need to combat an often mean and cruel world. This is a formidable task without the support of an extended family, or ‘village’.
As we celebrate the Black family, particularly the Lightfoot-Jones family, let’s remember the legacy of the struggle that made us a strong people. We can learn from the lessons of yesterday’s history, dream about tomorrow’s mystery, but it is during the present gift of today when we must do our best work. These are the best days of our lives.