Getting Back on Track: It Begins at Home

By Beverly Gadson-Birch
 

No one knows better than Professor Damon Fordham how slavery negatively impacts generations. The Professor may not have lived through it, but he studied it.

I am certain the Professor did not wake up one morning and decided to study history because he had nothing better to do. And, similarly, I didn’t wake up one morning and said I am going to protest injustices.

For me, education started in my home. My parents believed in me and that raised my self-esteem. It seems Black children are born into a world that expects so little of them.

My parents taught me to stand up for my rights and I got an opportunity to do just that when I returned to the south.

One of my earlier experiences with segregation was riding the bus from West Ashley downtown. I sat behind the driver on the bench seat between a middle aged white man and a gray haired white lady. It was obvious the minute I sat down that I should not have done so; or, at least Ms. White Lady thought so because she twisted back and forth in her seat to avoid touching me. I said to her, “I paid the same fare as you did to ride this bus and I am not about to get up. If you are uncomfortable, I suggest you do.” I can remember my exact words as if it were yesterday. I had the attention of everyone on the bus, including the driver who was observing the exchange in his rearview mirror. Ms. White Lady took my advice and stood up for the remainder of the ride.

It was my parents’ teachings, the bus ride and 1969 hospital strike that led to my lifetime of fighting injustices. I knew things could be better, should be better and would be better if I got involved, like my parents did.

Black mothers worked as maids and sat on the back of the bus as they rode to work or sat in the back seat of their white employer’s car as they rode home after a hard day’s work.

Deeply etched in my young mind was their dog’s commanding presence in the front seat while their hired help rode in the back seat. My thought was “I am good enough to cook and clean for you but not good enough to ride up front.” Somethings are just too painful and difficult to forget. So, it was back then in the old south.

Discrimination: I saw it! I lived it! and, I got involved. Knowing what I knew and what I experienced, I could not pass the injustice torch along to my children. I vowed early on that my children would not walk around in darkness. They will know their history!

Home is where it started for me and home is where it started for my children. Lessons taught around the kitchen table were valuable lessons learned. There were no video games back then, just plain old “kitchen table talk”.

I knew if I failed to educate my children, they might fail. If they did not know of the many inventions and contributions of their forefathers, they would never know their untapped potentials. My children would not grow up in a world full of untruths and low expectations. I would not let that happen.

Black children are still made to feel inferior, but that’s on us. It’s up to us, no one else, to fix things for our children. Black children need to be taught the truth about who they really are and not who they are pictured to be.

They need to know they can excel. Those who know better do better.

I can’t speak to the light that went off in Professor Fordham’s head and how that spark set him on a history path, but it is a good fit for him. And he has shared that spark to enlighten others.

History, back in the day, was boring and not many Blacks chose history as a profession. History books contained very little information on African Americans and much of the information was slanted and negative.

Whites were given credit for Black inventions and achievements. African Americans were depicted as dark skinned, big lips, big hips and kinky hair. Now, the tides have changed. Younger whites are paying through the yang yang to transform their bodies into blackness.

If we are going to save our young people, it’s important that they know their history. They are not born thugs, dumb or deadbeats as painted. Getting back on track begins at home. Are y’all with me?

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