We are approaching the bounds of the annual celebration of Black history and heritage so thoughts about Black people’s contributions to American, world and human history will begin to fade for many people. However, I’m reflecting on the meaning of Black history and heritage for all people, everywhere.
I recently read the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture blog post, “The Origins of Black History Month”. It offers a quote from Dr. Carter G. Woodson who founded Negro History Week in 1926.
"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Dr. Carter G. Woodson
As a director of a Black Studies program, thoughts about the relevance of Black history and heritage for all people never really leave my mind. They are always simmering somewhere on my back or front burner. Various events have been known to turn up the flame. Most recently I’ve been significantly inspired by the United Nations declaration of the International Decade for People of African Descent and the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March.
While these events chronicle the experiences, culture and contributions of people of African descent, they simultaneously affirm that Black history is human history and that ordinary people joining forces regardless of their ethnic origins are an immeasurable force for good.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. When accepting the Oscar for the song, Glory, Common eloquently described the Edmund Pettus Bridge "that was once a landmark of a divided nation but now it’s a symbol for change”. He called forth “the spirit of this bridge” and connected struggles for justice around the world from America to France to Hong Kong. He brilliantly pointed out that “the spirit of this bridge transcends” demographics like race, gender, religion and sexual orientation that are often used to deny basic human dignities.
As he invoked the spirit of the bridge, Common reminds us that actions on behalf of justice are “elevated by love for all human beings”.
There is a Yoruba sacred text, Odu, which states, “Those chosen to bring good into the world are called human beings”. It says that “human beings will go back and forth between heaven and earth” until everyone has achieved “the good condition”. Thus, it is doing “good” that defines our humanity. We are here to do something good. We are here to benefit and uplift all humanity.
Perhaps, during this International Decade for People of African Descent, we can think about how this gift from the Yoruba of Nigeria shines light on the special good packaged in our divine bodies. Perhaps, we can learn how practicing Maat, an ancient African spiritual principle, will create both internal and external harmony. You see, Truth + Order + Balance + Reciprocity = Justice, too. Here’s how.
We honor the Truth that our spirits chose to inhabit our bodies so that we could bring about the “good condition”. When we take ownership of this Truth about ourselves, we are moved to recognize and accept it in others. We become aware that a part of our life’s mission includes uplifting others. We define the strategies necessary in Order to create a better world. We welcome the Balance revealed in the African proverb, “I am because we are. Because we are, therefore, I am”. We understand the guidance from A Course in Miracles which says, “to give and to receive are one in truth”. As we give to others, we also receive. It’s an example of Reciprocity at it’s best. Take a moment. Think of it. When you give, you receive.
This is a short-list of the many practices for building a better world that Maat reveals. Indeed, Maat originated as the foundation for creating an environment where people thrive. She emerged as a force for sustaining a world governed by justice, fairness, and equal access to resources. Common and John Legend have captured her spirit of Justice in the Harmony of their song Glory. It’s moving. It calls us forth to join the cause for uplifting all humanity, for creating the “good condition”.
As John Legend sings, “One day when the glory comes, it will be ours. It will be ours. One day when the war it won, we will be sure. We will be sure…..We’ll cry, Glory”.
© Sandra Y. Lewis