We Who Believe In Freedom Cannot Rest

This blog came about after witnessing a cross-cultural discussion between youth from Cape Town, South Africa and Newark, NJ. As I sat and listened to the group, I became painfully aware that our young people in America had no sense of the world around them. Although I knew this from my other interactions with young people through work and volunteer activities, it triggered a nerve within my soul. What are we teaching our young people about their history? Were they only learning about Emmett Till and other important figures through rappers such as Lil Wayne where he talks about having sex with a woman just like Emmett. (While Lil Wayne’s verse is historically inaccurate, I will save that for another post.)

During the session the young people were asked to identify where the pictures were taken and who the people were when possible. When shown a picture of Nelson Mandela they answered “Morgan Freeman” and then finally “Oh, that’s the man sick in the hospital.” However, when asked why he was an important historical figure, they couldn’t answer. The struggle for freedom and the anti-apartheid movement was not even a thought in their mind. The thought of Africans or African-Americans being treated as second-class citizens did not register. I was hurt by the fact that this was our next generation. A generation that doesn’t even realize that they will be targeted based upon what they wear, the music they listen to, and for just being themselves.

We have all read, heard, and participated in some way in the ongoing debate about race in America since the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon has become a modern-day symbol of what it means to be a young, black male living in America. The sad truth is that he is not the only one. Let us not forget the killing of Jordan Davis in November of 2012. Jordan was killed while sitting inside a vehicle after not turning down what his murderer called “thug music.” Jordan Davis was 17 years old. Oscar Grant was shot in his back while in handcuffs in 2009 by a BART police officer. His story is now recounted in a movie called Fruitvale Station. However, these are just a few names amongst countless others who have lost their lives. In 1983, Sweet Honey in the Rock penned a song entitled “Ella’s Song.” The song describes the inequity of value placed on the lives of young, black men and the need to support our young people in carrying forth the torch of freedom. As I think about Trayvon, Oscar Grant, and other young black men who continue to die senseless deaths, I sing this song:

Ella’s Song
Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon
Sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons
That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale
The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm
Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny
Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives
I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

by Bai Kamara


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