Guest Editorial…Lost in translation

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by Shannon Williams

Since I try to educate, support and pay homage to the Black community in everything that I do, the month of February for me, is just like the other 11 months of the year.

Nonetheless, I certainly appreciate Black History Month and all that it represents for our people as well as the general population. With that said, it’s important for us to not only reflect on our history, but also our present state of being. In doing so, I was reminded of how far we’ve come as a people and unfortunately, how far behind we are.

As I think back to the 1950s, I’m reminded of segregation in schools—how Blacks attended schools that were in substandard condition compared to their White counterparts. I once saw a picture of a Black boy and girl who were barred from a White school in Dallas. The two looked starry-eyed through a school window where they saw White students being taught in a new facility by an enthusiastic teacher. I often wondered what the boy and girl were thinking at that time and the role such divisiveness played in their lives. Shortly after seeing the picture of the Black boy and girl who were denied access to an all-White school, I noticed another picture. The second picture showed two young girls playing tag during recess. The thing that made that particular picture so significant was that one girl was Black and the other was White, yet they were playing with each other at a newly integrated school in New Orleans.

As I looked at the two pictures, I realized that the second photo was a reality because people fought against the segregation that was reflected in the first photo.

It was then that I thought of the advocacy spirit so many in our race exhibited. In a proud and steadfast way, people (Blacks and even some Whites) held demonstrations and sit-ins in support of integration. They fought the fight until the battle was over and the goal was realized.

My how things have changed.

Today, it’s hard to get some parents to take a proactive role in their child’s educational enhancement. It can be even more difficult to get people to stand up for what they believe in, fight for the underserved, or promote positive change.

Somehow over the years our advocacy efforts were lost in translation.

As I think of the values that our people used to have—from Black patriots who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, to African-born Phillis Wheatley, to civil rights advocate Medgar Evers—we possessed a sense of worth and respect for ourselves that transcends the way many of today’s Blacks view ourselves or one another.

Nowadays, it’s nothing for us to kill one another (remember Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old Chicago student who was found dead on a street corner after being punched, kicked, and beaten with 2 x 4s by other Black males). Many of us also have little regard to how we present ourselves publicly, treat others, or the way in which we view issues of importance. Even during the most tumultuous times of the Civil Rights Movement, our people combed their hair and wore neat clothing. Today things are quite the contrary. Instead of men wearing shirt and ties, many of today’s males wear shirts that come to their knees and jeans four sizes too big. It’s no better for some of today’s females. Rather than wearing dresses and skirts that fit respectfully, it’s nothing out of the ordinary to see a woman with a tight dress on, some booty shirts, or a provocative shirt.

Somehow over the years our values were lost in translation.

And let’s not forget about working. There was once a time when no job was “below” a Black person’s standards because we considered work a means to pay bills and get the other things that we wanted and needed in life. However, now if you mention the words “maid,” “lawn care worker” or “food server” to a Black person, you might get slapped in the face for insulting them. Many Blacks today would rather receive government assistance or expect someone else to supply their needs instead of working and being self-sufficient.

Somehow over the years our strong work ethic was lost in translation.

While there are countless people who do a wonderful job and take their role as parents very seriously, there are some who lost the memo.

I’ve noticed a significant difference in the way we parent today compared to decades ago. Fathers are absent from their children’s lives, mothers focus more energy in caring for a boyfriend or spouse than they do their children, and some parents have totally abandoned their kids—forcing them to live in foster care or with extended family. Believe it or not, there was once a time when such actions were taboo, now they’ve become the norm.

Somehow over the years the desire to be exceptional parents has become lost in translation.

While Blacks have become “lost” in recent years, all is not lost. Improvement can occur, but there has to be a strong desire to do so. While we reflect on Black history—our history, let’s also think about the future that lies before us. Let’s do what we can to evolve individually or help someone else progress. Doing so, will make the present a great history lesson for generations to come.

(Reprinted from the Indianapolis Recorder.)

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