By Rashida McKenzie
As you prepare to celebrate Black history month, ask yourself whether or not you really know your Black history. No, not the lessons that have been taught to you in school as a requirement, but the ones that you are required to have in order to truly be able to celebrate Black history all year round. Back in college, I took a class that required me to find and talk to the oldest living relative in my family. The professor asked us to find our family griot. A griot is an African storyteller, the one who passes down oral traditions or history. Of course, there was no modern technology, so this was their way of keeping history alive, and it was a role generally taken by the oldest person in the village. The information we gathered was supposed to be used to make an attempt at tracing our roots back to Africa.
Although I wasn't quite able to pinpoint the exact African village that I came from with the information that I gathered (I'm still working on it), I came that much closer to understanding my existence.
My family griot is my great-grandmother, Pauline Jones. She is ninety-seven years old. Born in 1910, my great-grandmother has lived through seventeen presidents, which means that she has seen a lot, heard a lot, knows a lot and lived through a whole lot more than many people on this earth.
Of course, I have a relationship with my "Grammy," as we affectionately call her, but not once before that assignment had I really taken the time for her to impart her wisdom to me. It is one thing to hear it in passing. It is another to ask for it.
So today, I extend that same assignment to you. I invite you to begin to establish a relationship with a great-grandparent, an elder or your griot. We miss out on so much of our rich history by failing to take the time to explore our resources. The inevitable is that one day that person will die, and with them goes a piece of you that you will never know or understand.
Do a little digging, and many of you will soon realize that some of things we take for granted such as freedom, education and the right to vote are things that people in your family fought for.
Some of you may find that your oldest living relative was not able to get a formal education. "Grammy" only made it to the second grade. She was forced to drop out of school to help tend to work at the house. Back then, being in school was not looked at as a priority, because honestly it didn't lead to as much advancement as it does now. Priority was about paying the bills; and today you don't have to give up one for the other, you can do both.
Event the topic of slavery is one we tend to skim over nowadays, but think back four or maybe five generations. Someone in your family experienced that cruelty.
The relationship you establish doesn't necessarily have to be with someone in your family; they can be someone in your neighborhood, church, or just a passerby. Anyone who has seen, lived, or experienced anything you haven't holds valuable and precious knowledge from which you stand to gain.
So as you prepare to celebrate Black history month, ask yourself whether or not you really know your Black history. No, not the lessons that have been taught to you in school as a requirement, but the ones that you are required to have in order to truly be able to celebrate Black history all year round.