Fifth grade was a very poignant year for me in becoming fully aware of the richness within my Blackness. After about 2 years of Ms. Richardson and her weekly African American History lessons at my elementary school, my chest was slowly swelling with pride. It is a hard thing to explain to a class of children that all look like me by a teacher that looks just like my mother that there was a very long time, a majority of the history of the nation I live in where none of us mattered. That what we were doing now, learning in a school setting and being challenged to learn, was forbidden. I am so grateful to some of my elementary school teachers for laying the groundwork to excellence. I can’t image just how lost I could have been for a much longer time without those moments.
Then there was my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Svendsen. The youngest teacher at the time — maybe 25 or 26, but you know that was the same as saying he was 50 to a 10 year old, teaching the gifted class in the top grade. This young man of Norwegian decent, worked tirelessly to ingrain so much beauty of our culture into our supple minds. Made sure we understood the pains and tribulation of a people through the beauty of verse and film. Encouraged us to research people we didn’t know and weren’t previously taught about that contributed to not just Black history, but American history.
At the time, I was obsessed with the Biography of Billie Holiday and the poetry of Nikki Giovanni. Mind you, I’m 10 years old. I was probably way too serious for my age. That was the first year I remember questioning why Black History Month is in the shortest month of the year. And also starting to question ‘well why do we even need this month since we don’t have a White History Month?’ MLK Day stood out to me. I think he is the only Black person I could think of that we actually observed his day of birth. I was multifaceted, but my Blackness started to really shape and take center stage that school year.
It didn’t help that while I was trying to cope with all the information I was gaining from my adult book reading and what I was learning in the classroom, that life was happening all around me. In LA, the Rodney King beating and in DC, the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill trial had me glued to the TV and newspapers daily. It was the first time I felt true rage in my Blackness. I didn’t know what to do with it. My teacher told me to write. So I wrote. I was very heavy into poetry then and I looked for poems to calm me and wrote poems to get what was in me out. I found out that year that I don’t handle stress well and ever since I can’t physically handle stress. Writing quickly became my lover. I found a major piece of my calling that year. There have been times that I’ve waned considerably as far as delighting in writing. I found it to be a burden the older I got, but living here has reawakened a sleeping giant. Not just for the sake of writing, but the sake of further exploring Blackness and its richness once more.
This past February, I posted quite a few statuses on my facebook account of things that I’ve taken note of over the course of my life. This year is the last time I’m going to question why Black History is again the shortest month and start to really fully focus on talking about it in depth whenever and wherever I want. Exactly how I choose to celebrate my richness isn’t restricted in 28 or 29 days. It’s 365 or 366. It’s 24/7.
As fate would have it, I was reading Andrea’s post on Black Identity + Black History Always and while our makeup is different, our ancestry is the glue that binds. Yesterday I mentioned that I’ve found great comfort in being able to have a somewhat cultural connection to new friends I’ve made here. I don’t know exactly how different things would be if I hadn’t experienced 5th grade emotionally and mentally like I had. I think I’ve found it necessary to feel a connection to those surrounding me ever since then. I am a very deliberate person by nature and I am very big on the power of choice. I think that in my time living in Amsterdam, I’m generally personally displeased with how Blackness is celebrated. It feels more subdued here. It might not be that way to someone from here, but I do see plenty of room for improvement.
I guess I’ve said all that to say the following:
1) I mentioned in January that I’m working on a new project. It doesn’t have a launch date yet (some time this summer) but it will be exploring race and cultural identity and richness from a personal, historical and anecdotal perspective. I’ll be sure to mention it again when I’m ready for submissions in the spring.
2) I’m going to talk more openly here and I’m going to alter my Saturday Morning Stories idea. It will not only include short stories (that I have yet to write. My writing game is back on, short stories are the next thing to tackle.) but poems and art and film and books and whatever has inspired me at the moment or in life. The format doesn’t matter. The story matters.
Soooo check back tomorrow for my first official Saturday Morning Story! And above all else, have an amazing weekend.