This week I had the privilege to teach a workshop on Music/Lyrics & The Movement at the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was such a beautiful sight to see hundreds of young Black leaders coming together to study, learn, grow, converse, share, listen and ultimately, pause, take a breath and then exhale. These young people accepted the call to help facilitate and impact the next generation of young leaders and game changers. Many of the instructors work in communities that have been ravaged by drugs, violence, and poverty, yet they are committed to making a change. This was wonderful for me to see because lately the narrative of change, revolution and reform has been whitewashed. The Freedom School was birthed out of the Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman. Despite any narrative that is being told, it is young Black people that drew the blueprint for revolution.
Every morning the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® retreat started with a Harambee session- a time for celebration and encouragement. Harambee is Swahili for “all pull together” and that is what we focused on during the workshops, how we can all learn and grow together. We spoke of our pain and sorrow but also of our joy and happiness. I left the Freedom School training feeling energized and believing that I could run on and see what the end will be.
On the way home to Kentucky, my daughter and I decided that we would stop and get something to eat. No sooner had we pulled off the exit a truck decked out in with a Confederate flag made its way in front of us.
And it hit me that the safety, insulation, and liberation I felt at Freedom School, was gone. I was back in my old Kentucky home.
My old Kentucky home- a state that remained neutral during the start of the Civil War. (How do you remain neutral when it comes to slavery?)
My old Kentucky home, a state that was a slaveholding state that benefited economically from the suffering of countless Black people.
My old Kentucky home – where two cities Louisville and Lexington were major slave markets that profited from selling Black bodies down the Ohio River.
My old Kentucky home – Land of tobacco crops cultivated by slaves.
My old Kentucky home where over 100 Black men and women were lynched.
My old Kentucky home, where, in the 1850’s 23% of White males owned slaves.
My old Kentucky home, where Kentucky protected the right to own slaves.
My old Kentucky home, where a Black man was lynched in Louisville because a White woman felt threatened because he asked was her husband home?
My old Kentucky home, one of three states that rejected the 13th amendment and didn’t ratify it until 1976.
My old Kentucky home – the title of the official song of the Bluegrass State since 1928 that was not modified to change the word “darkies” to “people” until 1986.
And now in 2018 my daughter and I pulled into the Taco Bell parking lot and my daughter didn’t want to go inside and asked that I use the drive-thru. I asked her why and she said, “I do not want anyone to spit in my food if they see that I am Black.” Here, in my old Kentucky home.
My old Kentucky home, where Rev. William Barber along with hundreds of other protestors of the Poor People’s Campaign, (a campaign fueled by economic justice started by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Southern Christian Leadership Conference) was denied access to the Kentucky State Capitol, unless they went in two at a time. When I saw the photos, I was angry, embarrassed and ashamed. The images looked as if Kentucky has rewound time perhaps to a time that it thought it achieved greatness.
What are we doing, Kentucky?
What are we becoming collectively as a state?
Is this what we want to be known for-A STATE THAT STANDS ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY?!
When our grandchildren and great-grandchildren read about Kentucky in the history books, will they be proud of us? What will be written about us? What images will be shown? Who are we as a community of Kentuckians?
I challenge you, Kentucky to finally make a decision. Draw a line in the sand because this time, you do not have the luxury of claiming neutrality.
Either we are going to be what we say we are or we are not.
Either we are going to respect Black lives, or we are not.
Either we are going to provide sanctuary for immigrants, or we are not.
Either we are going to care about the health of Kentucky residents, or we are not.
Either we are going to tear down/remove and place Confederate statues in a museum with historical reference and not just relocate them to other parts of the state or we are not.
Either we are going to treat teachers with respect and dignity, paying them what they are worth or we are not.
Either we are going to stand on the principles Kentuckian Muhammad Ali spoke of – Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality or we are not.
As fellow Kentuckian, Florence Reece asked, “Which side are you on?” As the Good Book says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!”
How long do you want to remain lukewarm, Kentucky?
Take a look around you! Choose you this day, Kentucky. But know, that remaining neutral is no longer an option.
Categories: Thoughts, Musings and Reflections