I was an active community volunteer while living in New York City in the 1990s, working with homeless women and at-risk children.
Inevitably, when I visited my family in Norfolk, Virginia, my grandmother would announce my attendance during Sunday morning church service. I’d have to stand as my community and professional accomplishments were recited to the congregation.
I’d cringe with embarrassment.
But my mother used to say, “You have to understand. People are always boasting about their children and we want to show them how proud we are of our children too.”
If black folks don’t draw attention to their accomplishments, who’s going to, she asked.
I say this on a day when “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius was found dead from an apparent gunshot wound.
His show - a source of excitement and pride for teens, particularly in the 1970s - was a black alternative to “American Bandstand” and helped launched numerous recording artists’ careers.
For viewers, we learned the latest dances, fashions and music. And "Soul Train’s" sponsors featured African-American lifestyles during the commercial breaks. We truly saw ourselves on the TV screen for an entire hour.
[See Glady's Knight's comments to CNN on Cornelius' tragic death.]
Black History Month is really a national remembrance and acknowledgment of black pride that flows through African-American communities in some way, year-round.
There’s a song that we like to call our “Black National Anthem,” titled “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Sometimes I sarcastically say that if I never hear that song again it’s okay with me. That’s only because my friends and I sang it countless times, growing up.
I belonged to this group or that group which participated in events that recognized Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes and many others through songs, or readings and performances. Every event started or ended with “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
I last heard the song in September at the Georgia Dome, at the start of the Football Classic between FAMU and Southern University. The crowd stood when the music started, and I thought, “Oh no.”
The truth is the song stirs up love and teenage memories of joking with my friends on stage as we waited for the cue to start singing. And the truth is it left a lasting imprint of pride and love on my heart.
As Don Cornelius would say, all roads should lead to, "love, peace and soul."
Lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson
Lift every voice and sing,
till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the
dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet
come to the place
for which our fathers died?
We have come over a way that with tears have been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past,
till now we stand at last
where the white gleam
of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
shadowed beneath thy hand,
may we forever stand,
true to our God,
true to our native land.