Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The deaths of Maya Angelou and Vincent Harding leaves a deep void in the soul of black America

I’m sitting here fighting the paralysis caused by the news of Maya Angelou’s death.  Vincent Harding died last week. It’s too soon.  The feeling of decomposition has occupied a space once vacated by hope.

What will morning bring after midnight comes to blind travellers headed toward a dream?  What do we do after two great prophets take comfort in a place beyond our knowing?

I’m stuck in the silence.

Who will remind us of the lessons from before we were old enough to comprehend?  Who will tell us stories about wadding in water deep enough to drown optimism? Who will be there to calm the weariness stirred by images large enough to conjure fear?

I’m stuck in disappointment.

Who will challenge us not to forget?  Who will mold the minds of the next generation?  Angelou and Harding kept us focused. They kept our eyes glued on the waiting prize.  Who will tell us stories about life before the election of a black president?  Who will remind us of the heaviness of walking on soil tainted by the blood of those slain for refusing to go home?

Harding was a scholar baptized in struggle.  He was a Mennonite who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Harding worked in the campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He drafted many of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches.

Harding wrote books and served as the senior academic consultant for the PBS television series Eyes on the Prize. He made the connection between scholarship and activism that shadowed the work after King’s death.

“There’s a lesson for us: If we lock up Martin Luther King, and make him unavailable for where we are now so we can keep ourselves comfortably distant from the realities he was trying to grapple with, we waste King,” Harding said during a lecture at Goshen College in 2005.  “All of us are being called beyond those comfortable places where it’s easy to be Christian. That’s the key for the 21st century – to answer the voice within us, as it was within Martin, which says ‘do something for somebody.’ We can learn to play on locked pianos and to dream of worlds that do not yet exist."

Angelou was also active in the Civil Rights movement. She worked with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and was deeply involved with Malcolm after his split from the Nation of Islam. Before becoming a poet, she held jobs as a night-club dancer, fry cook, prostitute and a cast-member of the play Porgy and Bess.  She became a coordinator for SCLC, a journalist in Egypt and Ghana, an actress, producer and director of plays, movies and television programs. 

Angelou is known best for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her autobiography that exposed aspects of her personal life.  She taught us that telling the truth can set you free. 

Mary Lee, her maternal great-grandmother, was emancipated after the Civil War. Lee became pregnant by her former white owner who forced her to sign a false statement accusing another man of being the father of her child.  It was part of a past that many were too ashamed to tell.

Angelou described Lee as "that poor little Black girl, physically and mentally bruised."

Who will tell us it’s empowering not hide from the truth?  Who will be bold enough to encourage others to avoid being delineated by the views of those unwavering in their attempt to curtail faith in more?

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible,” Angelou said.

Who will teach black women not to be coerced into accepting less by men?  Who will massage the conviction of those broken by old decisions?  Who will elevate the cognizance of those fading into a shell of their vast possibility?

Who will speak from a place beyond the narrow analysis of former days? We need men and women who have stood on the banks of promise while the footsteps of hate marched rapidly to prevent the next step.  We need people who were there when courage was found in the middle of enormous distractions.  Those voices will remind us of who we are, and why it’s important never to go back.

Who will stand in the pulpit with Martin and Vincent? Who will write poems brewed in the spirit of Maya?

I’m sitting here begging God to redeem a world bruised by arrogance and apathy.

Listen to the whisper in the wind.

I’m sending you. Stand with the ancestors.  Tell the story of how you have overcome. Tell them, as you travel along the way, a few more footsteps are required before you stand on the other side of the river.

Eyes closed now.

It’s time to read again There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America.  Teach me Dr. Harding.  Teach me in your death.

“If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.”  I hear you Dr. Angelou.

My tears have been wiped away.

No comments:

Post a Comment