I am finding it difficult to get through most days without crying, without feeling like water is rising above my head, without feeling a great sense of despair. I feel a heaviness in my chest. Watching 400 years of abuse, injustice, and systemic racism play out in history and in the news has proven to be too much for many people to bear. I recognize it all too well. I watched my husband, a retired Army veteran, endure the long process of deconstructing all he saw in Iraq through his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While I do not claim to have PTSD, I—along with many others—certainly am dealing with trauma. Yesterday, those feelings of distress were exacerbated as we watched the 45th President of the United States have peaceful protestors sprayed with tear gas and shot with rubber bullets so he could take a picture.
The bishop who oversees St. John's Church says her church was used as a "prop" for President Trump's protest response.
She condemned police use of tear gas on peaceful protesters as "antithetical to everything" followers of Jesus should believe. https://t.co/tqdDzcik5T
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) June 2, 2020
I am a teacher, but before that, I am mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a Black woman. I raised my right hand and swore to defend this country against all enemies, both foreign and domestic—I am a veteran. I would have laid down my life in defense of this country—will this country lay down racism for us?
In the last few days, I have had countless people reach out to me who are feeling the same trauma I am feeling, who want to know what to say to their students of color. I have had difficulty finding the words, and my trauma has had me to the point of not wanting to talk, but today, while reading, I felt that this excerpt from my book, “If I Could: Lessons for Navigating an Unjust World,” is most fitting to share with our young Kings and Queens who may be feeling hopeless right now:
Lesson 6: Know from whence you came. I want you to always know about those who have come before you. Remember that our ancestors survived the Middle Passage in the underbelly of a slave ship whipped and chained together, naked, afraid, and hungry. Those who survived the horrific journey were ushered off of the boat like cattle and treated, not as humans, but as property.
Our ancestors stood on auction blocks and were sold to the highest bidder. Children were savagely ripped from the arms of their mothers, and families were separated never to be seen again. All the while, your ancestors could not fully understand what was happening, as they did not speak the language in this new country that they were brought to. They took on new names, had to abandon their culture, their religion, and their freedom. This went on for over 400 years.
After our ancestors survived slavery, they had to deal with Plessy v. Ferguson in 1890 and the “separate but equal” laws that followed and encouraged widespread legalized racism across this nation (History.com Editors, 2009). Our ancestors survived this too then fought for Civil Rights, achieved them, and here we stand today in the year 2020.
I share all of this with you because when you think you cannot go on, when you think something is too hard, I want to remind you of the blood that is flowing through your veins. You come from conflict, survival, stick-to-itiveness, perseverance, and endurance. You were formed and birthed through the struggle. Your ancestors survived ALL of that for you to be here […] for you to be paving the way for those who will come after you.
You were born with a purpose, and you owe it to your ancestors to live life boldly, to give everything your all, and to persevere through every obstacle and challenge that will come your way. You are the ancestors of those not yet born; what legacy will you create for them?
Kelisa Wing, “If I Could: Lessons for Navigating an Unjust World”
Although weeping endures through the night–joy will come in the morning! The seeds of anti-racism were planted years ago: Selma’s Bloody Sunday, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and all of the other acts leading up to the eventual signing of the Civil Rights Act into law. We are still watering the seeds today with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and with the hope that these youth activists usher in with their leadership in the fight for justice. We must not grow weary in doing the work because if we do not give up, if we stay the course, if we continue to persevere, in due time, we will reap a harvest.
This piece originally appeared with Education Post. Photo by Sean Simmers.