February is Black History Month. The journey of Black people is a global story of slavery, sacrifice, struggle, suffering, tragedies, intellectual and psychological oppression, setbacks, systemic racism, disdain and hatred. All of these experiences are very unpleasant to speak and hear, and for this author, very hard to write.
When conjuring the imagery of human beings kidnapped and transported with iron shackles around their neck and hands, stripped of their language and identity and forced into chattel slavery, it leaves a suspended lump in one’s throat. This is how Black people arrived on American soil. Once we got here, we were raped, beaten, dehumanized and declared the personal property of others so that generations of Black people could be bought and sold to work on plantations, under the duress of incessant threats of beatings and death. Slavery was the lucrative economic business model in America.
It was because our skin was darker than any other race and our hair was a different texture that we were treated as inferior, flogged, hung, lynched, hosed, incarcerated and used for medical experimentation. This is an ugly stain in American history — a period whereby remembrance provokes embarrassment and shame.
While the story of Black people in America is replete with egregious treatment, prejudice and discrimination, it’s also rich with stories of Black innovators, leaders, scholars, allies and mentors who prevailed against injunctions, indignities and injustice. They overcame barriers, elusive opportunities, contrived defeats, overt opposition, saboteurs and obstructionists. Their capacity to persevere reminds us that hope never dies.
The passage of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act happened because of countless protests, petitions and prayers. The passage of this law undergirds many laws, protects many groups and provides many privileges to Americas who didn’t know they would need it. The enactment of Title VII which provides the legislative scaffolding for many newly enacted laws is evidence that hope never dies.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared in one of his last speeches that “we as a people will get to the Promised Land,” he sensed that he might not make it there with us, but he believed we would experience Promised Land advances, breakthrough and freedoms. His impassioned message inspired optimism that hope never dies.
Today, allies of all races — whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians — partner with African Americans in advocacy work against racism. The Latter-day Saint, Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal and Zion, Church of God and Christ, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim people stand against bigotry and hatred. These global religious coalitions unite for a common cause of justice, assuring the spirit of the world that hope never dies.
It has been 401 years since the beginning of slavery, and African Americans are still making inroads, overcoming challenges, breaking barriers, shattering records, creating new paradigms and models. With each chapter of progress, African Americans inscribe in our history books that hope never dies.
When corporations invest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, institutions adopt inner city schools and leaders mentor African American children, generational cycles of poverty and disenfranchisement are broken. When generational cycles are broken and the gulfs and gaps are bridged, education becomes easier and access more equal. When one person helps another person, when a corporation actualizes diversity and inclusion and when one generation lifts another generation hope never dies.
Barack Obama’s presidency laid the foundation for the election of the first African and Asian American female vice president. As the 49th vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris’ ascension as the highest ranking female official in the history of the United States represents to every female around the world that hope never dies.
As African Americans, our journey includes perseverance, courage, tenacity and resilience. These indomitable attributes were gifts of our ancestors that hope never dies.
The door to freedom opens from the outside. Thus, the future demands us to step out of our box, which silos and silences us from what is changing around us. Our future beckons us to form new relationships, be more curious and engage in meaningful endeavors which express that hope never dies.
As we walk this journey together, we’ll meet new friends, supporters, advocates, denialist and revisionists. If the work we embark upon becomes challenging, remember this: 1. Hate never wins. 2. Love never fails. 3. Hope never dies.
Theresa A. Dear is a strategist at The Human Capital Strategy Group and a national board member of the NAACP. Visit her website at theresaadear.com.