Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

1Jun/150

Roots and Branches: We Are the Bridge Between the Elders and the Children

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I was very fortunate to have spent many of my childhood years growing up around, and to some extent getting to know, my grandparents.  There were many lessons they tried to teach us, rules for living really, that I've always remembered and still reflect on in my adult years.  The most consistent messages were to always listen to my parents, and to always seek out as much education as we could possibly get.

As for listening to our parents, our grandparents were absolutely clear that our parents had a responsibility to be hard on us, but that they knew far better than we did what it would take for us to grow up and be successful in this country and in this world.  They also made it clear to us that our parents knew what was at stake if we didn't listen, and if we didn't grow up to be responsible and hard-working.  They helped to translate the rhyme and reason for the strict childhood we were experiencing.  The stakes have always been high for our children growing up in such a racist society.  And as much as our grandparents may have spoiled us, they also didn't play games.  We did chores around their house, we ran errands for them and we did anything and everything they asked of us.  And when necessary, they disciplined us just as 'intensely' as our parents did.  Our grandparents didn't play.

In terms of education, they made sure we knew that formal schooling (as in going to school to learn and get diplomas, degrees, etc.) wasn't always allowed for our people, and that anything we wanted to be and do in life would require a strong educational foundation.  They also made it clear that there were some things we needed to learn that wouldn't be taught in textbooks... like respect for elders, how to conduct ourselves in public (we represent our parents and extended family at all times), how to treat other people and our lifelong responsibility to our family and community.  It was clear that getting an education wasn't just about our own individual success, but those were all tools and processes we needed to exploit in order to make our mark - in support of our community - in this world.

While there was so much that I did get, the one thing that I wish I got more of directly from my grandparents was greater insight about what their childhoods were like - what it was like to have grown up so close to the years during which our people were enslaved.  I appreciate now how hard and traumatic some of those memories were, and also how their insistence on being forward-looking accounted for a lot of that.  The good thing is that my parents, as well as my aunts and uncles, have over the years helped me and some cousins understand what those earlier years were like.

Now, in my adult years and as a parent of two growing children, I watch with great appreciation as my children interact with their grandparents, as well as with their great aunts and uncles.  It's such a blessing that they get to soak up some of the same stories that I'm hearing for the first time, as young children.  It's also powerful to watch them listen to some of the reflections from our elders about the long history of racism that we continue to fight.  One of the most pronounced messages they're hearing is that this isn't new, and that there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the experiences - successes and no so successful strategies - of our long fight for freedom and justice so that they can be better prepared as the face and tactics of racism and white supremacy continue to evolve during their lifetime.

I share some of these reflections as a reminder that we have so much to learn from our elders about life and about our history in this world.  We can't blow them off, and we also can't afford to let their stories, experiences and wisdom leave us when they transition from this physical life.

For years now, I have kept a small statue of an elder on my desk, and it reminds me of the many years of life that have been lived by others before me, and that have made it possible for me to be here.  I, and we all, have to tap into that wisdom if we really want to turn this pathology of racism and white supremacy on its head.

There's little new under the sun.  And that's certainly true when it comes to our effort to heal and develop our families in the face of white supremacy.  If more of us better understood the look, feel and ever-changing landscape of this racist pathology, we would be able to focus our energies and strategies so much more effectively.  Studying our history is our best starting point, including both our ancient ways of living in the world and our collective response to racism and white supremacy during the lifetimes of our elders and ancestors.

We have many elders in our midst right now.  We should start today by asking questions, making sense of that experience and gaining any insight about how to apply it to today's circumstances.

The only generational gap that can ever exist is the one that we deliberately refuse to bridge.

elder

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