Black lives matter, yet they have historically, and until today, too often been discounted, ignored, abused, and destroyed in this nation and throughout the world. When we say “black lives matter”, we are making a statement of fact and a moral statement affirming our shared humanity. Without sharing and understanding the past and present stories of our neighbors, friends, co-workers, partners, teachers, and students, we become susceptible to our individual and collective biases and unwittingly reproduce exclusionary patterns. It is time that we recognize that our lives are morally and historically interconnected and that when black lives are discounted, we are all diminished.
Author and Activist James Baldwin explained,
History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.
All of us are indebted to the first African migrants who, over 80,000 years ago, left their birthplace to populate our planet and whose ingenuity helped our species survive. Closer to home are other stories from the African diaspora that hold lessons for us to learn. The forced migration of enslaved Africans to North America, their experiences building lives after the reconstruction amidst unrelenting persecution, prejudice, and violence, the Great Migration of African Americans to the North, and the stories of the generations of black citizens seeking respect, and dignity in the pursuit of happiness are foundational to who we are today. We owe it to all Americans to teach these stories while nurturing habits of mind, heart, and civic engagement, that can unleash the potential of pluralism to strengthen our democracy.
We cannot walk in each other’s shoes and live in each other’s skin; yet, what we can do, as civic agents and educators, is to create welcoming and inclusive environments where we can learn with and from each other.
As poet Maya Angelou reminded us in On the Pulse of Morning:
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again