Lift every voice and sing…
by Victor Leslie, Major –
As we come to the end of another Black History Month, I chronicle some reflections on our rich heritage and legacy as African Americans and challenge our readers to make a commitment to “bring Good News to the poor…proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19).
Our history and legacy are characterized by heartbreaking hardship, fighting faith and tremendous triumph. It is a legacy of a people fortified through the bonds of family and by the grace and promise of God. It is a legacy that still mystifies others as to how our people took on a system of racism, exploitation, outright humiliation, degradation, and discrimination with such dignity, courage and determination—and persevered. It is a history of dismantling, brick by brick, the Berlin Wall of segregation, bringing it crashing down to open new pathways of opportunities for liberty, justice, equality and economic development. Yes, ours is a rich heritage and legacy that we must recapture, retell, remember and respect, not just to bring some permanence to our own history but to also challenge current thinking about our level of progress. As Malcolm X said, “History is a people’s memory…we have to know something of the background in order to address ourselves to the present.”
Without doubt, our past has many rich valuable lessons to help us understand ourselves, but we cannot become trapped in the past if we want to confidently chart a course for the future. The reality is that the past is dead, the present is alive and the future, although unborn, is awaiting us. Our time calls us to move beyond the old walls and use our new freedom to actively evaluate innovative ways to carry on with our calling, responsibility and obligation to stand up and speak “the word of truth, by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 6:7), no matter how painful it may be.
In a society where we applaud and celebrate every African American “first” as a collective victory, let us not forget the disproportionate presence of African Americans at the bottom of America’s ladder of socioeconomic injustice. In our cities “where the scars of past discrimination still contaminate and disfigure the present, let us not close our eyes to it and declare there is a level playing field and hope that it will go away by itself” (Colin Powell). In a world still marked by intense class divisions and social inequality, let us not cloak ourselves in the dangerous myth that the health and safety of our neighbors is not our problem. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “We can ultimately be free only together, we can be human only together, we can be prosperous only together and we can be safe and secure only together.” To do otherwise, would dishonor God, for we cannot love God if we fail to love our neighbors (1 John 4:20-21).
In this 21st century, as we gather at the river of time to celebrate the context and content of our African American history, let us gratefully pause to reflect on the sacrificial involvement of the thousands of African Americans, unwilling to remain the suffering invisible mass, “fighting to conquer their past, hoping to revel and flourish in the present and determined to gain a successful and prosperous future.” But like “Old Man River,” we must keep rolling on, moving forward with new vision, inspiration, courage and strength to finish the unfinished symphony.
I encourage you to join me and make the choice to not hide in the shadows but instead step forward and make our voices be heard, trusting God to help us find the heart, the language, the caring and the confidence to embrace and sustain his mission to confront sin and to articulate a vision of transformation far beyond that which any man can offer. Only through the actions of brave Christian people can we continue to make the needed changes for a positive future. “We must rise to this moment. To do this, we must be the shapers of events, not just observers, for if we let this moment pass, we may lose the possibilities of the future” (Shirley Franklin).
“Lift every voice and sing…a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”