This is a reprise of a post from a couple of years ago – before most of my current subscribers were on board. I was inspired to repost it by a new phrase that is beginning to go viral: “Black Lives Inspire.” This started with Rochester’s own Jacquie Germanow, a renowned artist, who wanted to use her creativity to boost the movement. But she wanted to go beyond the classic BLM mantra, seeing that as a kind of baseline. You can read her message and see how this message is spreading at her FB page (with permission).
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 might ignore 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?
Leave a Reply below.
Resources: A few recent, worthwhile reads:
Black Fatigue – How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit Mary-Frances Winters
Diversity, Inc. – The Failed Promise of a Billion-dollar Business Pamela Newkirk
So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot Mikki Kendall
Action: VOTE – and encourage others to vote.
13 thoughts on “Resilience: “….and still I rise!””
I am doing research on artist, Faith Ringgold, an amazing woman who just turned 90. Here is a couple of quotes from her to add to your collection:
“You can’t sit around and wait for someone to say who you are. You need to write it and paint it and do it.”
” I just decided when someone says you can’t do something, do more of it.”
“I had something I was trying to say and sometimes the message is an easy transmission and sometimes it’s a difficult one but I love the power of saying it so I’m gonna do it whether it’s hard or easy.
Thanks, Melissa, for adding those!
Thanks Frank for your insight and reminder of all the things us white people just take for granted. As a child I heard stories from a Black couple who were my parent’s friends. He was the son of sharecroppers and turned to music early in life. He told us about how the bands would play for the customers and then couldn’t eat with them because of their skin color. Once he was asked to join one of the service organizations by friends, but was voted out when it came time for them to follow through. They attended a mostly white church in town and the pastor asked him to join. Some of the members balked at his using the baptismal because he was Black. And on and on I’ve witnessed all the things many of us whites choose to deny! I’ve assisted in organizing community events that focus on social justice issues, continue to educate myself on the issues, especially my contribution to their existence as a white man. I recently started going to a Black barber to support his business. As a minister in a white church, I try to weave awareness into my sermons. It pains me to listen to friends who have to experience this every day of their lives. Awareness and follow through is the key! We can never do enough!
Thank you for such a full reflection. Agreed, we can never do enough, and the reparations have to come in all forms.
Thanks for this, Frank. Here’s another role model of resilience and genius in so many dimensions, including a Rochester connection. Paul Robeson.
Thanks for this, Bob. But I never knew a Rochester connection, and didn’t see that here. What did I miss?
Not in the article, Frank, as you note. I seem to remember being told some years ago that Robeson performed at the Eastman during one of his tours. Maybe not accurate.
Ah – that could be it.
We Must Keep On Movin’ ON Together In the Midst of Oppression!
We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.
_ El Hajj Malik El Shabazz
Thank you for that contribution, Howard. I’d seen it before but never recorded it.
Resilience is essential and a lesson for all of us in these times. Admiration won’t change racism,however, so I appreciate your question about action. I will continue to monitor my own racist thoughts and actions and will ask for feedback from Black friends. And I will continue to facilitate anti-racism events.
Thank you Joyce. The recent Seeds of Hope was an example of your leadership.