[Opinion] Sankofa

Lately, I have been thinking about the world of my children’s future. This has come about at a time when I have been immersing myself in history. I recently began studying the Great Migration as an interest in revamping a Black History unit for my students. Though I have known about the Great Migration for some time, I never before studied it as closely and extensively.

As a teacher, my immediate goal is to be able to help students understand the complexity of this story of African-American experience–both what contributed to the struggle and the remarkable culture that was born out of generations of preservation and resilience.  My long-term goal is for students to connect the Great Migration to the lived experiences of migrant groups across all identities in a way that will inform how they interact with the world and the humanity within.

In this process, I have come to recognize the Great Migration as the story of my ancestors melting away the bars of a cell they were told was their only justified freedom. It is a story of sacrifice, faith, will, and resilience. It is both beautiful and ugly; empowering and enervating.  It is the story of my great-grandparents, who pursued a better future for their selves, but never could have conceptualized me. Their circumstances did not allow them to plan or dare to dream this far into the future. But without them, my life as I know it would never have come to be. Now I am at a point in my life where I am wanting needing to make sense of it all.

One of the few privileges I possess that my ancestors did not is the privilege to dream three and four generations ahead. My existence is not based upon the same mode of survival (though sometimes it feels like it). I have experienced the wounds of generational trauma, but I also know that I have the privilege to heal and break the cycles that perpetuate suffering. There is a lot about this world that I want to change for the sake of future generations.

When we consider the world of our children’s future, my wife and I believe that it must start with how we teach our children to consider themselves in the world. We believe it is our duty as parents to pass on to them an understanding of the past; to tell them its story as authentically and fully as it deserves to be told. We want them to have an understanding of their existence in a way that connects them to the past, drives them to ask questions about their present, and informs the choices they will make in the future.

This journey includes activating their awareness of the racial intersection of Black and White at which they stand. To be aware of and embrace the beauty of their Blackness. To explore the stories of their cultural heritage through authentic lenses. To be aware of their Whiteness in order to challenge and dismantle structures–both social and systemic–which promote a belief of its superiority over all other identities, including the complexity of their own.

This obviously is not small work and there are many unknowns that will emerge as life is dynamic and ever-evolving. What I do know is that a perfect blueprint neither exists nor shall we set out to create it. My intentions are only to be guided by the vision we have named and to continue to surround our children with a village of folks who truly have skin in the game.

I, as my great-grandparents before me, have dreams of a better future than my past and present. I wish for my children’s children to have a future that builds upon the freedoms fought for and experienced by my generation and the generations that came long before. I believe that this dream may only be achieved by assuring that I use my vantage point to help them look honestly into the past in order to uncover what is needed to create a better future.

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