Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1446: Harnessing history to stand on a stronger foundation

  History is powerful. Black History is powerful. If we know our history, we harness its power to stand on a stronger foundation, reaching higher and seeing farther. If we don’t know our history, the power of history stands on us, weighing down our minds, our emotions, our hearts, our spirits, our lives. History is powerful.

  These past weeks have reminded me of the power of history in general and Black History in particular. Of course, February was Black History Month, so I’m generally reminded. I spoke about Black History at a prison in Jefferson County, attended a Black History program in Greene County, made a presentation on Black History at a church in Lowndes County, gave remarks at the 50th Anniversary Jimmie Lee Jackson Commemoration in Perry County, discussed Black History on a radio program in Montgomery and on a radio program in Selma, wrote an article about The Power of Youth in Black History and crafted a columb concerning the power of Black History. I know the power of Black History.

  History tells us where we were, where we are now and how we got from where we were to where we are. It also tells us where we can go. History not only deals with the past as many of us recognize but with the present and the future which few of us recognize. History is powerful.

  So many of us disdain history, especially Black History. Therefore, I want to illustrate how history not only tells us where we were, but where we are now and where we can go in the future. In our minds, let’s take a trip. Let’s take the entire Selma population of 20,000 and put a blindfold on each of us. Then, let’s bus every one of us to Montgomery, steering clear of the shopping centers and/or the State Capitol. Then let’s take the blindfolds off and ask each of us where we are. We will not know where we are because we do not know how we got there. And Montgomery is just 50 miles from Selma. History is powerful.

  On the other hand, if we are bussed to Montgomery without blindfolds, we can be taken any place in Montgomery and we will immediately know where we are. We know we are in Montgomery because we know how we got to Montgomery. History is powerful.

  Going one step further, if we see how we negotiated the 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery, we can envision how to negotiate the 100 miles from Montgomery to Birmingham, or the 165 miles from Montgomery to Atlanta and so forth. History not only reveals the past and defines the present but opens a view to the future. When we don’t know our history, we are blindfolded. Therefore we don’t truly know where we are or how we got there. When we know our history, we take off the blindfolds. We know where we are, how we got there and where we can go. History is powerful.

  The more we identify with the history, the more powerful it is for us. This is true whether it’s personal history, family history, community history, religious history, gender history, geographical history, organizational history or racial history. That’s why it’s critical for Black people to have Black History. Sometimes we may not identify with the history, but if we know it, we are better able to understand others. That’s why Black History is important for White and other Americans as well as African Americans. Black History is powerful.

  I often tell the story about how mean I was as a child. Many said I was the meanest child they had ever seen. In my meanness I placed an ax in my mother’s hand, got down on my knees, placed my neck on the chopping block and repeatedly screamed at my mother, “Chop it.” My saving grace was a lesson in family history. My aunt told me about how mean my mother was as a child but she grew out of it becoming so wise people came from near and far to seek her advice. She also told me that my grandmother was extremely mean and she grew out of it. Because I strongly identified with my family history, I believed that I could grow out of my meanness. Therefore I commenced a journey that transformed my life. Black History is powerful.

  Sometimes we think that if we don’t talk about our painful history, that history will not impact us or at least it will impact us less. In truth, it  impacts us more for it weighs us down, and we don’t even know why we are weighed down. When we openly acknowledge our history, no matter how painful or shameful, we lift its weight from us. When we embrace our history, we are able to stand on that history, reaching higher and seeing farther. Black History is powerful.

  I have heard people say that we should not keep bringing up “that mess.” “That mess” is usually the history of the Civil Rights/Voting Rights struggle and/or slavery. Slavery is particularly taboo. Because we try to bury certain history, it closes in on us with a vise-like grip. When we acknowledge our history, we release ourselves from its powerful grip. When we embrace our history, we stand on it, reaching higher and seeing farther. If we don’t stand on our history, it will surely stand on us. Black History is powerful.

EPILOGUE - There are things all around us that can empower us if we allow them. However, we often do not recognize these empowering sources. History is one of these. We all have histories and our history will be powerful no matter what. The only question is whether it will be powerful for us or powerful against us. It’s in our power to choose.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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