Think back to the historic March on Washington in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
These historic events banned poll taxes, literacy tests, poll bully tactics, efforts to limit voting hours, and other intentional and strategic methods to ensure unnecessarily long voting lines. All of these measures, until banned, had effectively prevented Black Americans from voting. Segregationists, north and south, attempted to block civil rights legislation at the local level, too.
It’s ironic that here we are, less than one lifetime away, and our bipartisan Congress through its inaction will accomplish what those segregationists couldn’t in 1965.
We are still fighting the same familiar battles. But those pivotal steps in the 1960s also remind me we are standing on the shoulders of giants. And we’ve built skills that make us strong and prepared for what lies ahead:
• Patience: we’ve learned to cope with not getting what we want right away, or even for a long time, even if it’s painful.
• Negotiation skills: without the same power or privilege as white people to make things go your way, we’ve learned to reframe the situation to work out after all.
• Teamwork: when you grow up knowing you can’t single-handedly proceed on your own, you see the advantage of working together toward a goal — and often accepting not getting exactly what you wanted.
• Critical thinking: we learn to question situations from perspectives others don’t have. This can often put you outside of the mainstream.
• Communication: speaking out when there is the chance and helping others to see your viewpoint. even if it makes you nervous, are unique talents.
• Keeping an open mind: we learn not to shut down our thinking. This helps protect us from stereotyping others when frustrated.
• Problem-solving: when there doesn’t seem to be an answer, we come at a problem in different ways until an answer presents itself, even if through a roundabout approach.
• Perseverance: we learn not to give up, even when time and again, we’ve run into the same obstacles. We don’t accept defeat even though sometimes, we can’t see how we will ever succeed.
We carry the wounds, scars and baggage from our collective history.
How many of us have:
• heard that our childhood dreams of a bright future were probably not realistic?
• been forced to fill the role of “representative” for all Black people?
• been labelled “not like most Black people” and “exceptional” when we succeeded?
• struggled every day against stereotypes that drag us down?
• become victims of history, and the inability of others to see us for what we really are?
But we know better! we know our childhood dreams are possible. When we dig deep, we know the struggles will continue, but that we can overcome them. We can turn from being a victim, to a victor, aiming high and following our. We can aim high with aspirations, rather than living down to others’ perceptions..