Courage, Despite Oppression, Sustains Us

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Tompkins Weekly 2-9-15

By The Rev. Olivia Armstrong

What is sustainability? This might appear elementary, however, I’m trying to set some of us free realizing sustainability depends on the Sun, Air, Water and Trees. Please don’t sneeze. However, there’s no universally agreed definition (which is good). Now, that I have your attention. I thank the Creator that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Al Sharpton didn’t sneeze. (Both were stabbed close to the heart and if they would have sneezed they would have died.)

Allegedly, the concept of sustainable became common language during the World’s first “Earth Summit” in Rio 1992. However, my perspective on sustainability means a common thread of a legacy of a people who have been oppressed, abused, and misused and realizing that inner “gene” of courage to sustain themselves to live.

Wow! What a mouth full now, flowing with “Black History Month (February)” pulling out courage of ancestral sustainment (slavery, discrimination, prejudice and all other lethal isms, in America and now global), in keeping a race living and surviving. The proof is in the pudding; those with an ear, let them hear and do research. This month will be dedicated to Nubian (Black) people.

I would like to begin this column: Signs of Sustainability with a poem of Dr. Maya Angelou: “The Black Family Pledge” and then share personal testaments of youth, Anthony S. of New Roots School and Kyerria H., 11, from Endicott, NY.

Dr. Maya‘s ‘The Black Family Pledge‘: “Because we have forgotten our ancestors, our children on longer give us honor. Because we have lost the path our ancestors cleared kneeling in perilous undergrowth, our children cannot find their way. Because we have banished the God of our ancestors, our children cannot pray. Because the old ways of our ancestors have faded beyond our hearing, our children cannot hear us crying. Because we have abandoned our wisdom of mothering and fathering, our befuddled children give birth children they neither want nor understand. Because we have forgotten how to LOVE, the adversary is within our gates and holds us up to the mirror of the world shouting, “Regard the loveless”. Therefore, we pledge to bind ourselves to one another. To embrace our lowest. To keep company with our loneliest. To educate our illiterate. To feed our starving. To clothe our ragged. To do all good things, knowing that we are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are our brothers and sisters. In honor of those who toiled and implored “(Sustainability)” God with golden tongues, and gratitude to the same God who brought us out of hopeless desolation, We make this pledge.”

I believe, our youth don’t have a listening community public voice and after hosting Youth Voices/Kids Radio on WRFI FM 88.1 and creating a Youth Poetry Corner and Youth Budding Artist in the Moonlighter Press, having such great response and outcry to be heard, these articles will be relating to youth and how they sustain themselves today with the horrors of youth challenges.

Anthony S, of New Roots School, wrote about a youth challenge he chose. “I have always struggled. However, my struggle is not broadcasted as other struggles in the world. It’s a struggle “ONLY” felt within…for those whom only it apply. A struggle that shouldn’t even be. It is the struggle of being a hybrid. I’m talking about my race. I am of many Nations and ancestors, some hated by one another but combined in my face. It is the history that continues to play out in our world, discrimination of color, culture and place. I stand here now a living “at testament” to everything that is wrong with the world in the mind of a race. No matter what color. I have struggled my entire life with my place in the color wheel. I seem to be on a complete other spectrum at times. However, growing up I knew nothing of race my mother was pale skinned and my father Black. In having a “Caucasian” mother and Black father. And me, I didn’t think I was Black , but I was aware what it really meant. I remember arguing at a young age with my friend and his father, about me being black. Only to be reassured by mother that I was right, and this where my confusion begun to be continued.”

Kyerria H, of Endicott, NY, shared a similar story as Anthony’s. After reading her first article, I felt there was something she wanted to say, but didn’t know how. I knew reading Anthony’s story about the challenges of being biracial would give her courage and boldness to write her story, realizing she is not alone. I told her to read what Anthony wrote. While she read, I stared at her face. It appeared lifeless. And while observing her read, I felt her identifying the pain and anger to the point where I started crying. she was expressionless, only taking a deep breath and passing me the tissues, upon my request.

I never experienced anyone’s pain, hurt and anger that way before. I am a professional healer (Reiki Master) and Social Worker. I’ve never observed anyone’s face in such great turmoil and pain without them saying a word. I felt like I was stuck in time and trapped and waiting for it to be over. Her reading that one page felt like the world stop spinning and I wanted it to start again. I felt she got stuck in the moment of time in pain and identification. She appeared speechless and breathless while reading.

It was very painful to watch an 11-year-old young girl to harbor and hold on to such deep-rooted pain. I wonder how many other children have experience the torture and teasing of being a biracial youth in school, among you’re peers. However, it encouraged her to write her own experience, which will be our next series “SCARES” What Sustains Us?

Olivia Armstrong is CEO of the Rainbow Healing Center of America in Jacksonville.

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