Telling OurStory – Ep.77

Respect in the Workplace – Ep.76
January 11, 2023
Human Trafficking Prevention – Ep.78
January 26, 2023

In remembrance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Melyssa reflects on African-American’s rich history of courage and activism that shaped the United States.

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

There lived a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights, and thereby, they injected a new meaning into the views of history, and of civilization. I had the opportunity this past year to visit Memphis, Tennessee, for a conference. And I was able to visit a wonderful friend, Yetta Lewis. Shout out to Yetta. Along with Kimberly Range, hey, Sara, who was kind enough to take us to the National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Motel.

I had never been there, and it was truly an experience. I could have been there for days, but we only had hours to spend. So, I tried to absorb all I could, and take photos to help me to remember, and provide information to others.

I remember being in elementary school, and sitting out of school on January 15th each year, to help create the leverage we needed for the holiday, dedicated to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. The creation of that holiday. That was my first remembrance of me participating in activism. And my parents made sure we knew why we were out of school that day, and we were going to be learning some things.

So, context is an amazing thing. I’m not sure you can even understand the true impact of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., without starting with the middle passage. And I know there are a variety of ethnicities that may be listening to this. But when you start with the middle passage, the West African cultures of the Mali, Songhai, the Aruba, Ashanti, the Kingdom of Benin, slavery in America held captive 12 generations of Black people. As long as slavery existed, so did resistance, however. And it was the people of African descent that pushed America to be truer to what it professed: that all men are created equal.

The moment the first African laborer stepped ashore in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1690, slavery became part of American culture. It fueled America’s expansion, and by the revolutionary war, it existed in all 13 colonies. By law, enslaved Africans and their descendants had no civil rights. Whites believed that Africans were inferior, and that justified the enslavement, and the brutality that maintained it.

Yet, Blacks defied oppression with words and weapons, everyday actions, and impassioned agitation. They built families, communities, and institutions. They kept alive African traditions, and created new traditions that defines what it means to be African American.

So often, we are challenged as African Americans, regarding our culture. We’re not African. We’re not American. We have no culture. But our rich and distinct culture became the most defiant argument against the idea that underlay the institution of slavery. That those held in bondage were less than human. So, for those of you that wonder why there’s a focus on Black Lives Matter, you have to start here.

You see, it was written in the Virginia Grand Assembly. They created the Slave Code of South Carolina, Article Nine of the Constitution, the Alabama Slave Code, the Fugitive Slave Act. Think about the physical brutality, the psychology of it. The courage it takes to lead, to stand up, to inject new meaning into the views of history and civilization.

In many cases, people don’t know this history. They’ve been told history from one perspective in school. There are so many things that I never knew, and would never have known if I’d just stuck to the history books that they gave me in school. Even African Americans themselves sometimes don’t know our own history. So, it must be told.

Being married to a storyteller for almost 25 years provided me an invaluable lesson in oral tradition and culture, and especially in the oral traditions of our ancestors. We have to tell our own stories, and I hope that people listen.

Diversity and inclusion is just the start of equality, equity and justice. Human rights, and the belief in people, and their own power to change their lives. From those trying to break the spirit at Parchman Prison, to the power of the vote, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, we are moving. We cannot afford to stop. Be the change you want to see in the world, and stay tuned for some special guests during Black History Month this year.

One quote from Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr: “Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative song of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve, for all human conflict, a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

I leave you with this short segment from Reverend Wendell Anthony, who sits on the board of directors of the NAACP, and spoke at the last national conference of the NAACP. These words I continue to play, because they inspire me to do more, to accept the call, and to continue to focus on civil rights, human rights.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  Don’t you see that America is calling you, not to watch what happens, but to make something happen? Not just to think about it, but to be a part of it. America’s calling you. Calling you not to quiet acceptance, but to constructive resistance. Not calling you by cellphone, iPad, iPhone, text, Instagram, or Tweet. It’s calling you to meet the challenges in the street.

America is calling you to get on top of all of this madness, so our [inaudible 00:07:39] will not stop. America is calling you from the north, the south, the east, and the west, determined to invest in everyone doing their very best. So, you cannot rest. We don’t need you to act like you’ve been called. We need you to come, because you got the call.

America is calling you. It’s you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and me too. America is calling you. Calling you. Will anybody answer the call, the 20 NAACP?

We are in the house, because this is the house that we want to maintain. America is at a crossroads. We at the NAACP stand in the gap, at a fork in the road. One way forge forward. Another way forge backwards.

Don’t you know, that after 400 years of enslavement, building this nation, never getting paid, 150 years of Jim Crow, and Jim Crow, Esquire, 100 years of lynching, fighting in every war of the nation, sacrificing blood, sweat, and tears to help preserve the nation, fighting and winning the right to vote, fighting and winning the right to live where we want, work where we want, go to school where we want, and love who we want, we have earned every right that we got right now? Nothing was ever given to us, and certainly doubtless say, nothing in power concedes nothing without the land.

It never has, and it never will. Therefore, we must continue to demand not just respect, but equity of opportunity. We’ve come too far to be turned back now. So, I don’t know about you, but I refuse to go back on the plantation. I’m not going back. We’ve come too far. Before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, and go to my Lord, and be free.

My bible teaches us, stand firm. Do not let yourself be burdened by the yoke of slavery. We are here, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In 1955, the NAACP had its 46th annual national convention, here in Atlantic City High School. It was a time when the FBI was in attendance. Not to do a workshop, but to make sure folks didn’t stop our work.

Speaker 3:  Educate.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  During the middle of the annual state nine dinner, a sea of white rats were released on the floor to disrupt the program, and disrupt the work of the NAACP. White rats, running aloose on the street of the floor of the national convention of the NAACP. Done by a white supremacist organization, bent on division and confusion.

Well, today, we love it. We still have rats released on the very foundation of our freedom and our race. These rats even have names. They are called redistricting rats, gerrymandering rats, [inaudible 00:11:08] suppressive rats, state line rats. Make America great again rats. [inaudible 00:11:16] rats. Seditionist rats. They have no right to vote rates. Big riot rats. Right wing evangelical Christianity rats.

These rats are running loose all over the country. They are fighting our votes, rights. They are swallowing up a woman’s right to health, access to healthcare. They’re attacking and invading the nation’s capital. They’re getting ready to chew up affirmative action. They are champing to get in the way as we take our souls to the polls and vote.

Speaker 3:  Yes.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  They are scratching away at the Constitution, because they believe authoritarianism is a better solution. These rats ain’t trying to run away with no cheese. These rats are really trying to steal your freedom, and put you at ease. [inaudible 00:12:18].

That’s why ain’t much better, Fannie Lou Hamer, the 20th child in a family of six girls, and 14 boys. When asked who she was, she said, “My name is Fannie Lou Hamer, and I exist.”

Speaker 3:  Yes.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  I exist.

Speaker 3:  Yeah.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  At 626 East Lafayette Street, in Louisville, Mississippi.

Speaker 3:  That’s right.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  The reason I say exist is because we’ve been excluded therein from everything in Mississippi, but the tombs and the graves. That’s why, for us, it’s called instead of the land of the free, and the home of the brave, it’s called in Mississippi, the land of the trees, and the home of the grave.

Her parents were share croppers. Family picked 56 bales of cotton a year. One bale of cotton is 495 pounds. She said, “Too many times, for dinner they had greens with no seasoning, and flour gravy.” Her mamma would mix flour with a little grease, and try to make gravy out of it. Sometimes she cooked a little meal. You better listen. And they would have bread.

She said, “No one could ever say the Negroes are satisfied. We’ve only been patient. But how much patience can we have?” So, she reminded the world, the nation in 1964, right here on the boulevard, at the Democratic National Convention, that we didn’t come here for just one seat. We didn’t come here to be given a seat. We want our whole delegation to be seated.

You see, I’m tired. I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired. Well, the NAACP is also sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Speaker 3:  You better say it.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  We are tired of the delays. We are tired of the same old, same old. We are tired of those who are supposed to be with us, yet they are working against us. This ain’t just a national convention. It’s a national call to action.

We sit up here, just to damn vote, because America is gambling with our very lives. We came here to continue to build Black economic and political power. You see, this is power. We don’t want no greens without seasoning, just like we don’t want patient institutions not seasoned by the US Constitution. We want our greens seasoned.

As a matter of fact, we not only want greens. We want some sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, and chicken, and beef, and fish, with all the chili. We want some sweet cake, some pie, and some cobbler. Some of us get a little steak and lobster. And we want season too. As a matter of fact, we want to own the very restaurant where they serve people, because we’ve earned it.

We are tired of all the hope, the political tricks that have trapped so many of our people. That’s why we fight until we win. That’s why we must always be clear that many of our people are in a pit.

A man with one leg, walking along, and he fell down into a pit. A self-righteous person came along, and said, “The Lord must want him to be in that pit.” A subjective person came along, and said, “He must belong down there in that pit.” A pessimist came along, and said, “I doubt if he will ever get out of this pit.” An optimist came along, and said, “I just hope, one day, he might get out of this pit.”

A born again Christian came along, and said, “I’m just going to pray that he gets up out of this pit.” A psychologist came along, and said, “His parents are the reason he’s down in that pit.” A fire and brimstone preacher came by, and said, “He must have done wrong. That’s why he’s down in the pit.”

But along came the NAACP, at just the right hour, and reached out a hand, and pulled up the man, saying, “We’ve got the power.” You see, God did not give us the sprit of fear, but the power-

Speaker 3:  Power.

Reverend Wendell Anthony:  … of love and respect. Well, if you’ve got the power, if you’ve earned the cards that you serve, go out of here, and use it. Because we’ve got the power. God bless you today.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.