When I hear an African American child say with a matter-of-fact tone that Martin Luther King Jr. freed the slaves, I can’t help clutch my heart with distress. The ignorance of black history is disheartening. However, hearing from our own youth is downright painful. I can only imagine that this lack of knowledge stems from the fact that we, as a community, have just become lazy with our teachings.
Little girls across the United States grow up with the dreams of possessing the poise and grace of a gymnasts. Many are enrolled in tumbling classes, practice flips, stick landings and compete in competitions. As they grow up, some transition to cheerleading while others give up altogether. Financial reasons, size limitations and mere changes of heart tug these youth into different directions. However, even in adulthood they still reminisce of the time they wanted to dress in a leotard, soar through the sky, smile big, feel beautiful and shine as a star.
Sixteen year old Gabrielle “Flying Squirrel” Douglas represents that small percentage that got to live out her dream and achieve big. As the first American to win team and all-around gold in the same Olympics and the first African-American woman to win gold in the women’s all-around, the 4-foot-11 teen with the golden small and chic moves has earned her spot as a heroin and legend.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing the late Malcom X’s daughter, Ilaysah Shabazz, speak on behalf of Black America and the Civil Rights struggle. Although she had some moments that caused me to question her validity, there was one point she made that latched into my memory and journey with me home: Maintain my cultural identity and be proud of who I am.
As Shabazz referenced the Clark Doll study that was redone with the same horrific results, my mind journeyed back to my childhood. I hated my color and turned green toward my “light-skinned” peers. In my mind their looks were superior. Smooth caramel skin complemented their exotic brown, hazel and green eyes. They didn’t bear the curse of ugly dark blemished skin like I did. Instead I envisioned them as goddesses on a pedestal, light from above radiating their faces, guys at their feet adorning them and lusting after their flesh. The Goddesses were the epitome of beauty and as for me…
That’s what I longed to be.
Everyone has that one person who uplifts them with their spirit, and inspires them to be great. Although mine is deceased, his words still speak to my soul. Echoing from old parcel paper, I can hear, “My motto/ As I live and learn/ Is dig and be dug in return.” Ringing in my ears, I can hear, “Beautiful, also, is the sun. Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.” Singing to my soul, I can hear “Bring me all of your dreams,/ You dreamer,/ Bring me all your Heart melodies,/ That I may wrap them/ In a blue cloud-cloth/ Away from the too-rough fingers/ Of the world.” These words of advice let me know that if I accept people as they are, they will likewise accept me. I know that this dark skin I possess is not a curse, but a mark of beauty. It is a beauty that encompasses the soul of an entire race. And above all, I know that I have the right to dream, and my dreams don’t have to go unnoticed. My dreams can be protected from those who wish to push them down and keep them from happening. He once asked, what happens to a dream deferred? From the list of possibilities I came to this simple conclusion: I don’t want to be a raisin in the sun, I want to Explode. Yes, I want to explode like a firecracker, and emit a light of an African American Dream.
Happy Birthday Langston Hughes. Your Influence will forever live on.