This is a photo of my grandfather with my mother. I think we figured out she was about seven in this photo (and, side note: please note she’s was a total fashion stunner even then.)
The love in my grandfather’s eyes says it all. The youngest of nine children, he wanted everything for my mother: a world without walls, the chance for her to move about the world without any violence or scorn due to the color of her skin. My grandfather worked multiple jobs to provide for his family, he endured unbelievable hardship. A man who fought in World War II returned to the United States and had to fight for respect every single day of his life. That still kills me.
My mother’s face shows the pride and fearlessness instilled within her by my grandfather. She doesn’t believe she should have to apologize for being Black, she doesn’t relate to the concept that there are places where she shouldn’t go. Mom was escorted to school by the National Guard the year this photo was taken, crossing picket lines and walls of spitting protestors so she could go to school. She sat in on lunch counters with my equally fearless aunt Ella; she’s been through it.
Any photo you see of my mother’s face when we’re in a snapshot together looks like this. She looks at me with that same look, that undying passion that “You were born to be proud of exactly who you are. I want the world for you.”
I have to say due to some external factors it took me longer to embrace this love of self you see in my mother’s face in this photo. Born of the same blood, we didn’t have the same upbringing, despite her best efforts. Sometimes, that was a good thing, but in many ways it was similar. But now I have that same look, that feeling that my destiny belongs to me, that my birthright is within my grasp, that I should never have to feel apologetic for being born. I don’t apologize for taking up space….I get dressed each day with a sense of purpose.
Today is the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I wanted to create a celebration in his honor and in laud of all the people who still fight on a daily basis for the right to be treated like people rather than something less than. I don’t have to point out that many of the same problems still exist, that we must still rise against oppression anywhere. For everyone who understands that subjugation of essential rights anywhere is a threat to rights EVERYWHERE, this one is for you.
Hold your head up high, keep on moving. Someday, let’s meet, brows to the sky in the light of freedom, and we’ll turn to the next generation and hand them the keys to the world, dignity attached.
You were born to be proud of exactly who you are. I want the world for you.
Let freedom ring.