National Museum of African American History and Culture
LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING (Song also known as "the Black American National Anthem") Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise, High as the list'ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. 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, Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won. ~~ James Weldon Johnson, 1899 (lyrics) ~~ John Rosamond Johnson, 1900 (music) www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya7Bn7kPkLo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGqx4asAJqshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngFDy52eCZY
A few of those mentioned above:
Frederick Douglass, c. 1874
Louis Armstrong, 1953
Maya Angelou at Clinton inauguration, 1/20/1993
Mahalia Jackson, 1962
James Baldwin, 1969
Henry Louis Gates Jr. with Peabody Award, 2014
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, 2007
Langston Hughes, 1936
Martin Luther King Jr., 1964
Death be not proud. Out of slavery's ashes, THIS magnificent and vibrant LIFE.
The moment we cease to hold each other, The moment we break faith with one another, The sea engulfs us and the light goes out. -- James Baldwin
My town is on fire. Spreading now to Washington D.C., New York City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia. No wonder. This is not just a Baltimore problem. This is a USA problem. This is a worldwide problem.
Long ago, I worked in those inflamed communities. I worked there for a year, 1966-67. When Dr. King was murdered in 1968 (he was 39 years old then), we set up a phone bank at the School of Social Work and tried to bring families and friends back together. The rioting was so ferocious and disorienting that people got lost in it! Urban agony and “the fierce urgency of now.”
One of my assignments focused on a cluster of public welfare individual homes. Society named it “the projects.” The community was isolated, far from view by most Baltimoreans. Clearly planned residential segregation. Out of sight and mostly out of mind - invisible, inaudible, and denied - as local government designed and desired. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racial segregation was entirely alive and very active. The homes were built next to long-haul railroad tracks that ran flat on the ground. There were no barriers to protect the residents from stepping onto the tracks and into train traffic. No fence, no bars or walls, no inclines or gates, no barricade against bloody disaster. WHY.
In the beginning, when I walked the streets in those impoverished neighborhoods, I was somewhat apprehensive. Much had been said about crime and substance abuse, alcoholism. But soon I noticed that the residents had embraced my presence. Wherever I walked, people watched me from their windows to see that I was safe. They nodded and gave a brief wave as I passed by, as if to say, “Don’t worry. We’ve got your back.” So, after a short time of acquaintance, my tension eased, and I could give full concentration to my job.
We called it “a voice for the voiceless.” I tried to find more money and work and child care for families. I found medical care for some. I wanted to turn a blind eye to fathers who lived with their families because the "Aid to Families with Dependent Children" (AFDC) law never made sense to me. (Families could not receive welfare funds if the father lived in the home! What self-evident nonsense! Does it really take a genius to see the obvious?) Here was an offensive and cruel paradox. First we passed a law that only broken families could receive financial aid. Many caring fathers - those who couldn’t find jobs or sufficient pay - left home in order to qualify their families for this assistance. Then came the “news” that broken families were a serious national socioeconomic problem, perhaps even requiring Federal government intervention for remediation.
I grew devoted to the people and committed to the job of righting wrongs. At the same time, I noticed that those outside the welfare communities disrespected the social workers who worked inside them. Society viewed the public welfare social worker and her low-income clients with almost equal contempt. So open was societal scorn. All of us, workers and clients, were vilified as incompetent loafers – or worse. It was a further confirmation of intractable, unmanageable discrimination. I don’t know why I was surprised by this, but I was…and this is still true, and I am still appalled and dismayed. The conscience of our country is put to shame. Is there indeed nothing new under the sun, I sometimes wonder…?
We can change what people do and what they say, but we cannot always or easily change how they feel. (We know it is possible, though.)
Racism is a thing of misery on every side! It is mind-bending. We can hardly imagine it if we haven’t experienced it. I used to dream of ending the poverty and anguish I saw there, the profound societal disrespect that seeped deeply into the souls of my low-income clients. Those inner souls would scream, “I’m a person, too!” It was a poignant protest against the unendurable: annihilation of the Self. They hated the wider world that so totally despised and rejected them, and they hated themselves especially. Rage turned inward – there is often no other place to safely direct so much intense feeling…until its periodic explosion in riots…during which the rioters also trash, burn and otherwise violate their own neighborhoods.
Self-loathing. It is a learned reflection. It mirrors society’s disposition: disposable sub-human. It is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad disease. It says life is cheap, and any behavior eventually becomes OK because “my life doesn’t matter.” Baldwin wrote that “the most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” In other words, we were - and still are - effectively “radicalizing” whole groups of our own citizens, right here inside the USA. Some kids talked about “if I grow up,” not “when I grow up.” They were afraid of dying young, by senseless violence not of their own invention. The boys would join gangs to make themselves strong against society’s hate and an early death. The girls often had babies so that something precious and beautiful, of their own making, actually belonged only to themselves.
In his 1951 poem, “Harlem,” Langston Hughes warned the country this way:
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink Like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- Like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags Like a heavy load. Or does it explode?
Racism is toxic. Its consequences are poison to the racist himself, the injured, their communities, and the entire nation. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by what I saw. I always imagined myself in others’ place. It was a suffocating, paralyzing and helpless feeling, desperation, with no visible and assured escape hatch. I dreamed of ending that anguish. That was 50 years ago. I am still dreaming...
Baltimore is on fire, but this is not only a Baltimore problem. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, PhD sociologist and a U.S. Dept. of Labor assistant secretary at the time, knew it 50 years ago and wrote about it in what became known as the Moynihan Report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” 1965. The next year, it was required reading in our social science classes. He reported on socioeconomic issues for black Americans, issues of discrimination, social inequality, and limited opportunity. He argued in favor of government intervention for improvement: job programs, vocational training, educational programs and more. I am not sure 50 years have changed us very much in this requisite regard. We might need a contemporary, dedicated Moynihan to move our mountain of moral misdeeds. Or maybe we already have one such mover in our midst: our president – community organizer, lawyer, orator and author, biracial, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, experienced politician, man of influence and high connections – in his post-term years. We don’t know that yet.
I wish my dream would come true before I die, but wishing doesn't make it so. Neither does walking the streets. The one-by-one approach alone will never end the problems. They are too big and too complicated. A one-track answer won’t work. Much must be done. Laws should be a large part of the response, sensible national/Federal legislation. Positive government action. Over time, laws can change feelings, too. We know that because we have seen it. Maybe the new Attorney General of the U.S. can help... Maybe someday soon, Congress will return to functional sanity… Maybe the Supreme Court can help, if the justices are open-minded… Maybe we should revisit the Moynihan Report and commit ourselves to further exploring his suggestions. Education is most certainly one useful answer for good growth and change… Maybe a double dose of ongoing self-examination and compassionate whole-life partnerships would help us all. If that doesn’t work, increase the dose… Maybe all of this and then some… It could happen.
My dream may be deferred, but it is unbroken. Hope never stopped at all. Hope. A powerful force. Only with hope can we sustain the motivation to forge ahead. I found it in the most unlikely places – on the side streets of Baltimore. It was a lifetime gift donation from all my clients who refused to give up.
One of the most inspiring creations of any society is the person who has nothing to give but kindness, care for others, and hope.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights….One day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr., May 28, 1963, On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial In Washington, D.C.
You must be the change you want to see in the world. -- Mahatma Gandhi
Tags: riots, racism, poverty, self-hate, change, legislation, education, partnership, hope * * * Rea Ginsberg is a retired director of social work services, hospice coordinator, and adjunct professor of clinical social work.
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE: Considering dying -- with a special thought concerning mass murder/terrorism and how soon we "forget." Remembering the San Bernardino massacre.
You'll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut. -- Theodor S. Geisel
It can’t happen here. It won’t happen to me.
How many of us report this from our snug, smug homes. Complacent to a fault. A little self-righteous. A lot of turning away from painful realities. Refusing to admit what does in fact exist. Denial. It is the omission of truth. That is the essence of our belief that “it can’t happen to me.”
How we fool ourselves, willfully, joyfully, inviting others to follow, insisting that this is the right and righteous way forward. Others are captivated, convinced by our cheerful confidence. They do follow because the path of denial is so much easier and more attractive. Better by far than a harsh reality that we can usually grasp only with accompanying pain and suffering.
Maybe denial is necessary in our arsenal of defenses. We cannot live in fear and outrage all the time. We must have relief. We must find periodic escape. We “forget.” However, to fully protect ourselves, we also need to confront truth head on. Otherwise, truth will catch us by surprise and hurt us even worse because denial prevents adequate mental/emotional preparation for adversity. Unarmed truth must have the final word.
Yes, denial protects – sometimes. Thinly. Self-awareness and insight bring us solidly to who we really are and how then to proceed. Insight is the ability to perceive clearly and deeply, understanding the true nature of a situation. It is the capacity for understanding our own mental processes. It is our personal truth. It is not easy and it is sometimes painful. What counts is the courage to consider.
We are stronger than we suppose. Emily Dickinson said it memorably, poetically:
We never know how high we are Till we are called to rise; And then, if we are true to plan, Our statures touch the skies--
Dr. Charles Seymour, an historian and former president of Yale University (1937 – 1951), once famously remarked, “We seek the truth and will endure the consequences.”
What’s the point? Death, of course. In our case in this article, keep in mind death especially by sudden and unexpected violence like terrorism. But also think of dying by many other means as well: illness, accident, disease, and “natural” causes.
How much we gain from looking directly into the depths of death and remembering to prepare, remembering to test the what-if’s – reality testing. What if “it” did happen here; what if “it” did happen to me? Imagining our place in a future reality is a “what-if.” It poses a question of how we would feel and behave in various circumstances, if they occurred. We can mobilize hope and moral energy through questions.
We cannot afford to be trapped by living only in the moment or mostly in the past. We must also wrestle with future possibilities. They deserve careful and lengthy consideration. Very soon – sometimes too soon – the future becomes Now.
We do not need to have all the right answers, but we need to ask the right questions. It is mental preparation for the future. It is a search for safety; we can never be too safe. It is a self-taught and vital lesson in caring for the Self – call it self-defense or creativity. It is a buffer against FutureShock. Imagination lights the way. Something new is born this way.
Maybe this should become a required high school/college course, a how-to, the new iPsych 1.0 - IntroToPreparedness. It would examine and debate the crucial psychosocial first aid kit, what to pack, how to pack, and why. There, we would also teach how and why to carry on this learning for a lifetime. We would advise our students to reality-test often, to be prepared in case of various hurtful developments / crises. Don’t “forget,” and sooner is better than later – the later which may be too late. Don’t turn the unenlightened yesterday into tomorrow’s sorrow. Think about it.
The future is unknown and unknowable. It is radically open. It can be predicted only without certainty. The future remains to be made – largely but not only by our choices. Nevertheless, we can imagine it in many forms if we care to try. Denial often fails, but preparation often triumphs. Preparing is protective. It informs choice. It has the force to save lives…promoting health and strength and positive energy.1 Heaven can wait awhile.
Life is richer this way. The honesty of insight pays. Each relationship becomes a greater gift to be cultivated, tended, and harvested. We need others and others need us. Every day grows to be more meaningful, powerful, even precious and peaceful. We are freer, unbound from denial and its hapless aftermath. Choose the informed heart.
It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become. -- T. S. Geisel
1. The field of medicine offers a parallel concept, a more concrete and literal example of the value of preparedness. It is called “prehabilitation” or prehab. It optimizes post-operative recovery. Patients who participate in prehab physical therapy regimens are more likely to have better surgical outcomes, fewer and less severe complications, faster recovery, and shorter hospital stays (thereby reducing the cost of care). Studies show that prehab targeted interventions reduce hospital readmissions and improve survival outcomes of cancer patients. Also, the prehab exercises tend to trigger mental health benefits such as decreasing anxiety, increasing positive and optimistic feelings, and restoring the patient’s sense of control over his illness and treatment. Simply said, eyes-open, focused prehab helps the patient to prepare for a better, healthier future.
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted, but mostly they're darked. But mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?” ― Theodor S. Geisel