African American Culture:
J.S.: The history of discrimination and subjugation of blacks in America engendered the value of self-determination and hunger for freedom in my family. I was raised to know my culture, be proud of it, and to achieve to the best of my ability. My maternal grandparents were a statistical anomaly in that they were both college educated in the 1940s. A college education was a non-negotiable expectation for their children and grandchildren. My parents made a deliberate effort to ensure that I appreciate my culture. We were one of few black families in my hometown of Danville, CA, and more often than not I was the only black child in my classes at the small private school I attended in nearby Walnut Creek. Throughout my childhood, I was apart of Jack & Jill of America, a membership organization of mothers with children ages 2-19, dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty. We participated in cultural heritage events learning about influential black leaders, forbearers, trailblazers from entrepreneur Madame CJ Walker to folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to educator and intellectual Booker T. Washington. We learned to love the works of authors and poets such as Zora Neal Hearston, James Baldwin We participated in community service activities and civic engagement activities with other black kids of similar experiences. This organization served as a means not only learn about my culture, but also cultivated in me the confidence and skill set I would need to dare to achieve. It was not until high school and college that I realized that not all black had this legacy of excellence. I had always assumed that education, self-determination and prosperity were inherent to all black families within the culture, because the blacks I knew growing up all were accomplished and driven individuals. I had a rude awakening when I was told that I was “white-washed” from other blacks who did not share the virtues that I had assumed were intrinsically intertwined with black culture. It turns out my family was in the minority, but a minority made up of those blacks who have overcome oppression of past eras and forged a path for future generation to achieve that which our ancestors were denied. The song Lift Every Voice and Sing is endearingly known as the Black national anthem. I remember singing this at the beginning of a college scholarship event put on by the Links Inc., a black women’s service organization which my grandmother was a longtime member and in which my mother still participates today. I remember this distinct event because I remember the distinct chill that shot down my spine upon the recitation of the second verse: Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, out from the gloomy past, Till now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast. I remember thinking: “This what it means to be black, this is the stalk of my forefathers, this is my culture”
J.S. describes a part of what it means for him to be an African American. He recalls the history of oppression his ethnic group has faced in America, while living in the nation as American citizens, in addition to the imprisonment of slavery most had been condemned to during those turbulent years before the aftermath of the United States Civil War. I value J.S.’s contributive thoughts on what his identity means to him. We all have different ways of thinking about these, and the implications that they hold. I think of my family’s various ethnic backgrounds as well, and what they mean to me, regarding traditions brought forward into the present.