In 2014 I received one of the greatest gifts ever. A family friend and history buff, Leesa Jones, happened upon a piece of missing information from my family tree. Her genealogical research led her to a letter penned by great-great grandfather John Randolph Jr. The letter, written in April of 1864 , was entitled the Capabilities of our Race and was an impassioned plea to Southern abolitionists to assist in full with the emancipation efforts. John, himself still enslaved in Washington, North Carolina, sought to appeal to the “higher morality” of Southern whites and wanted to “settle the question of our capability for such things”
The letter in part reads “Surely the great effort of our friends in the North and the heroic deeds of colored men on the battlefield will so far remover our difficulties, as to enable us to show to the world that we are desiring the rights and titles of citizens a people worthy to be free- worthy to be respected.”
The full text of that letter is tacked to a board next to my desk and I read it each morning to remind me of my legacy and also to ground me my contemporary existence.
Recently when I breathe in his words, penned in 1864, I feel as if they could have been written, last year … last month … this week.
The last week has been particularly difficult, and with the release of videos of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, I don’t expect it will be any easier this week. As I struggled to move through the work day as news developed I was desperately trying to give words to what I was experiencing. I wanted to be able to explain the tears welling up in my eyes, I wanted to be able to explain my aggravation, even disgust, with the cultural obsession of Bradgelina, trying to focus on the facts of the things happening around me all the while ignoring what I can now only describe as grief. Yes grief.
I am grieving and I suspect that many of you are grieving as well.
We find ourselves at a collective crossroads where our past is looking our future squarely in the eye.
I am grieving because the life that I live and the experiences I have had John, could have only imagined, but I fell certain that he would be disappointed to know that years after the others fought tirelessly for personal freedom and citizenship, that true liberation would still be out of the grasp of his descendants.
I am grieving because the twins of personal prejudice and power give rise daily to pervasive institutional racism.
I am grieving because instead of doing something about institutional racism we are debating its existence and denying its impact. And as we debate and contemplate, the list of names we intone in grief will simply become longer.
In these moments all of the opinions and suppositions create a flurry of activity for a while and then another name is added to the list and we begin the process of grieving all over again.
Perhaps during this cycle we can take a different approach which may yield some different results.
The Congressional Black Caucus delivered a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for the intentional involvement of the Department of Justice in this recent cases where unarmed African American citizens have been killed by police officers. As citizens, consider supporting your legislative representatives in this endeavor.
President Barack Obama appointed a commission to study the culture of policing in the United States. The commission published a report that has extraordinary recommendations that could and should be implemented in communities across the country. Review the report and the recommendations. Take that information to your next city council meeting.
Finally, dismantling the racism curriculum should be supported by the Department of Education and be taught in schools across the United States. We are not born to this. We learn this behavior, so therefore we must be deliberate and strategic in unlearning ways of being with one another that dismiss and judge and marginalize.
I do believe that we collectively have what is required to make the right decisions in this crossroads moment. I believe that as citizens we must be active in our own space and place to eradicate those policies and practices that cast a shadow on the work of our benevolent ancestors.
I believe … all of us are deserving the rights and titles of citizens, a people worthy to be free – worthy to be respected.