Whenever I’ve come across it, I’m captivated once again by Maya Angelou’s signature expression of determination and resilience: “Still I rise”. You can pass on the rest of this post – but click on that link to read this gem!
From the first seizure of the first enslaved African, up to the present day, resilience has been a hallmark of a people torn from their native lands and still, to this day, scrambling to gain purchase in the land to which they were brought.
I was sitting recently with a friend, a Black man who was telling me about some of his experiences. He said to me, “Every morning I wake up and look in the mirror. And I think to myself, ‘I wonder how this Black skin is going to impact my day’?” And still he rises!
I decided to pass on to you some of the expressions of resilience offered by Black people over the years, as a way for all of us to understand more deeply the challenges that require resilience, and the many faces of that resilience. Most, like Angelou’s poem, offer a taste of those challenges, and the determination to overcome them.
“We must bear our sorrows in silence, unknown and unpitied. We must often put on a face of serenity and cheerfulness when our hearts are torn with anguish or sinking in despair.” Ann Plato
“You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.” Frederick Douglass
“It’s going to take a lot of punching. Jim Crow won’t be easy to stop. But I think there are enough thinking people in this fight, and enough ready to join to help bring real democracy to America.” Joe Louis
“We’ve railed against injustice for decade upon decade – a lifetime of struggle and progress, and enlightenment that we see etched in Frederick Douglass’s mighty, leonine gaze.” Barack Obama
“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” Nelson Mandela
“My mother believed in freedom and equality even though we didn’t know it for reality during our life in Alabama.” Rosa Parks
“Democracy might well be a wounded bird incapable of flight without the poultice of black forgiveness pressed to its wings.” Michael Eric Dyson
About a woman named Mable Jones: “Her disposition toward life was that of an elite athlete who knows the opponent is dirty and the refs are on the take, but also knows the championship is one game away.” Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” Coretta Scott King
“A little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham and she becomes the secretary of state.” Condoleezza Rice
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?” Zora Neale Hurston
“I never doubted my ability, but when you hear all your life you’re inferior, it makes you wonder if the other guys have something you’ve never seen before. If they do, I’m still looking for it.” Hank Aaron
“I’ve learned that I must find positive outlets for anger or it will destroy me…. I have to try to find a way to channel that anger to the positive, and the highest positive is forgiveness.” Sidney Poitier
“Never let the dying hand of racism rest on your shoulder, weighing you down. Let racism always be someone else’s burden to carry.” Colin Powell
“I have confidence not only in my country and her institutions but in the endurance, capacity and destiny of my people.” Blanche K. Bruce
“I am America. Only, I’m the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own – get used to me!” Muhammad Ali
“A lesser people – I mean a people of weaker constitution and fortitude – would have given up on this country long ago. But we didn’t. We are going to force this country to live up to what it is supposed to be about or we’ll die in the attempt.” Barbara Jordan
“We have made something down here…We made ourselves into a people…We have made a home…as do black people at their family reunions where we are regarded like the survivors of catastrophe.” Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Nothing the future brings can defeat a people who have come through three hundred years of slavery and humiliation and privation with heads high and eyes clear and straight.” Paul Robeson
As I’ve researched and absorbed these and other expressions, I’ve been struck by the consistent theme, from the earliest to the most recent, of frequent challenge and frequent resilience. As Coretta Scott King wrote, “You earn it and win it in every generation.”
How will you, how will I, take action to end this cycle?
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“Still I rise” Read Maya Angelous’s remarkable expression of resilience.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise Documentary on Netflix
Essential Black Wisdom – Quotes of Inspiration and Strength Edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi
Beyond the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership Team of the Rochester City School District will hold a general session, open to the public, on Tuesday, September 10, 6:00 to 8:00 at 130 W. Broad St., RCSD headquarters. See comments describing the REAL Team purpose in the Comments section of this blog post.
Also: The elections this coming November will be especially critical for the City. In addition to seats on City Council and on the School Board, two referendums will be on the ballot, with citizens having an extraordinary stake in the outcomes:
One will ask for citizens to approve the plan for a Police Accountability Board, as approved by City Council recently.
The other will deal with the possibility of NY State intervention in the Rochester City School District.
If you live in the City:
Check info on the Police Accountability Board Alliance Facebook page for background on this vital issue.
Commit time to assist in voter registration. Send interested people to the on-line site, or to MoCo Board of Elections 39 W. Main St.
Contact the League of Women Voters of Rochester Metropolitan Area to volunteer for registration drives. Ask to be assigned to a City location.
Go to Candidate Forums and quiz candidates on these issues, and ask for their concrete plans to address structural racism in city institutions.
If you are not a City resident:
You can still take the above steps.
In addition, attend candidate forums in your area and ask Monroe County candidates for their concrete plans to address structural racism in County institutions.