By Ernie McCray
There are moments when I want to sing out loud, “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and just get up and dance in my joy, doing the do like James Brown used to get us to.
I felt like that the other day as I listened to Harold K. Brown, a hero of mine, reminisce about when he and other San Diego activists marched and chanted and sat-in and demanded an end to the practices that various organizations and companies utilized, in town, to keep folks like me down.
The pleasure I was feeling in those moments certainly wasn’t based on Harold’s recollections of being jailed or called names and dodging feces tossed by the most hateful of God’s creatures – no, my glee came as I looked around me into the faces of so many people who have over time honored what Harold brought to us and have strived to keep hope alive. Folks who still have their eyes on the prize.
I saw an old friend who is working tirelessly to get votes for a man who could be our first Latino mayor, launching a new day down on C Street. Who would have thought that possible, say, two years ago?
Sitting next to me was my soul-mate who spends her days helping counselors develop the kinds of insights and practices they’ll need to serve a diverse society and a few were in attendance at the gathering on this day, all contributing mightily to our community everyday. Could anything inspire hope more than people being groomed to listen to the needs of everybody, no matter their religion or ethnicity or creed?
At the same table sat a woman who tirelessly oversees our convention center, positively influencing people from all around the world who come our way to work and play. No black woman could have occupied such a position back in the day.
At other tables, like at mine, there sat people of all colors: innovative folks who restructure barrios and ghettoes; educational leaders; respected consultants and socially conscious entrepreneurs; an author or two; a coach who came to town years ago to help set in motion the potential for great basketball at SDSU, now the Executive Director at the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA; a couple of politicians who have proven that they are dedicated to doing what’s right for all our citizens over and over again, day to day.
And another of my heroes was in attendance at this gathering, a man who carried on the kind of focused guidance the speaker of the day set in motion for black community leaders. Just seeing him in the room triggered memories from the 60’s: voting in the park as to whether or not we wanted to call ourselves “black”; dialoguing, with Angela Davis every now and then on the scene; yelling “pigs” at the city’s “Red Squad” who were always trying to start a feud between the Black Panthers and the US Organization instead of trying to help people get along, but we all knew the words to that song; the changing of family first names and slave owners’ surnames to African names as we self-identified; the donning of dashikis and greeting each other in Swahili; teaching our young boot dances that go back to Africa, helping them develop racial and personal pride.
As we sat there at this Black History Month event, put on by the Catfish Club, in the new African American Museum of Fine Arts in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center at Bayview Baptist Church – hope filled my very body and soul.
Black History Month always gets me into a “jazz hands” attitude and mood because it makes me reflect on my people’s struggles with others who dare to change what is to what could become, people carrying on until, as it is stated in an old song (our Black National Anthem), “victory is won.”
What’s grand is we also understand that the victory can only be won if we reflect on and live according to the lessons ingrained in our Black History beyond February, knowing that we have to:
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us”
At all times. Building a hopeful world is a full time proposition. Therein lies the joy.
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