There is something we don’t learn in school. No one at all; in if so, in few learning environments! I was fortunate as a little girl, in that I did learn this, although not in school. Maybe its because my mother was an activist or maybe because my family was keenly aware of the ‘struggle’ for CIVIL, HUMAN AND LEGAL rights in America, dating back to enslavement.
A brief history of the anthem and its creation:
James Weldon Johnson, born in 1871, was a composer, lyricist, publisher, lawyer and educator. Johnson wrote the poem turned song, later dubbed as the “Negro National Anthem”. His brother, John Rosamond, set the poem to music. It was first performed by 500 school children in celebration of President Lincoln’s birthday. That was on February 12, 1900 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
By James Weldon Johnson
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening 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.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Recently, I was reminded of the history of this song by a comedian, Amanda Seales, whose humor is a cross between D.L. Hughley and Trevor Noah. Very intelligent, thought-provoking and eye-opening humor, characterizes her style of delivery. She presents insights and it is left to the listener to process that information. It is best not to ‘sleep’ on this young woman’s talent for astute observation. She is a Columbia University graduate, a multi-talented, gifted, beautiful young woman, and a BLACK woman living in America.
I highly recommend that both black and white people, particularly professional, self-described intellectual and liberal folk view her HBO comedy special called, “I Be Knowin'”. What she presents to the audience is food for thought for both sides of the ‘proverbial’ aisle on African- Americans and whites in this country. She distinguishes the latter group, placing them into two separate categories- people who happen to be white and white people.
Seales points out the duality of African-Americans experiences and diverse communication skills. She notes that well-spoken blacks, politically correct black persons, professional black people can communicate in the traditionally accepted vernacular AND can speak ‘ hood’, as it were. It is explained that both communication styles are cultivated out of the need for survival.
In the outer world, where privilege assumes control, communication will resemble the politely conventional language. Should situations escalate, wherein there is a hint of being compromided or disrespected, survival mode can summon the angry black person from the ‘hood’ lingo.
This dual-linguicity is often overlooked in the professional realm. However, there is an ever- present struggle to release this other persona’ if necessary. This is said not to instill fear of a black person becoming hostile and too ‘black’, releasing anger in situations. Rather it is said to inform others of the too often overstepping, and unrealistic expectations, an exercise of white privilege, regarding black people.
Seales talks about this need for survival, born mostly out of perceived and actual disrespect, and low standards attached to blacks. Indicating that at all times, when interacting with white people, blacks exercise restraint, and are often fighting against being perceived as angry or inferior.
Black people ARE angry, because of their too often disappointment at whites’ perpetuated disrespect and disregard, grown out of their ‘privilege’. I can go on with my interpretation of this comedian’s take on life from the black perspective, with insights into white people’s mindset and corresponding actions, but I suggest that everyone see this show for yourselves. Funny, timely, and it will very politely explain life as a person of color. You are guaranteed to laugh-black or white.
Parallel to the education environments, this should incite people to be ever-mindful of interactions, the perspectives and perceptions of black children and their family members. Understand that there is precise historical referencing when you interact with them. Be more compassionate in your assumptions, decisions and determinations as it relates to teaching, discipline and capacity to succeed.
Perhaps black families should be pereived as are english language learners and given the benefit of your compassion as families with a cultural and language barrier. That, as all ELL groups, does not presume a deficit, deficiency or absence of intelligence. Quite the opposite. These families and their children understand quite well when the nature of your engagement with them is genuine.
If this is truly foreign to you, then realistically, you must make every effort to acquire insights to build your capacity to respectfully and responsively engage with diversity in the classroom and beyond. Commit to learning about the black experience in America because every experience in America is real and every black experience is an American experience.
Visit your local library and begin reading books dedicated to the black experience, written by black people, for black people. Simply because a book is written for blacks does not limit it as black only. As you learn about your neighbors, students, clients and colleagues, and if you work in school settings, teach about it. The more you know, the better you’ll be as an educator, mentor, human being and an American citizen.
Dedicate yourself to understand why there was a creative need for “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing!”. Then ask yourself whether you acknowledge the need for so many individuals to continue to lift their voices. People all over are doing so! What about you?