This famous line from the very popular and highly successful movie Black Panther was a defining moment in the film. The lead character Prince T’Chala is facing what appears to be a humiliating defeat at the hands of a rival from a neighboring tribe. At the moment when it appears all is lost the Queen Mother shouts this refrain to her son, “Tell them who you are!”
He is reminded of his roots and the royal blood running through his veins. This recognition sparks a renewal of strength that leads him to defeat his adversary and ascend to the throne.
The beauty of this scene is the validation of years of training by a parent who knew her son’s capabilities and his strong awareness of his history, heritage and culture. She was confident her son would overcome this challenge because she and his father had taken responsibility to teach him who he was, how to carry himself and eventually assume his role as leader of his people. This response is what all parents wish for their children when faced with overwhelming obstacles that may threaten their well being and future success. Societal forces are constantly at work deriding the gifts and skills of people of color and this is significantly evident in attacks on their children. Are we certain our sons and daughters will be able to call up the strength needed to overcome adverse situations and circumstances? What weapons have we provided to ensure our children are victorious? Do they possess a strong sense of their heritage, history, capabilities, talents and skills? In other words, can they tell you who they are?
Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the African American Museum of History and Culture within the Smithsonian provides some key challenges to the African American community when it comes to passing on the history of our people to our children. They include:
- The challenge of forgetting
- The challenge of preserving a people’s culture
- The challenge of maintaining a community
- The power of inspiration
The challenge of forgetting
It is important that we share stories and information with our children that lay a groundwork for understanding the journey of African American people in this country. Many distortions of our history abound and work to confuse and convince our children that they come from nothing and will never amount to anything significant in this society. By sharing our history in ways that our children can understand we can immunize them against the toxic interpretations and distortions of the accomplishments and rich heritage of African American people. This can be done very easily through read alouds of children’s books which depict our story in rich text and colorful illustrations. The readings should be followed with lively questions and discussion of what was read to stimulate thinking and promote understanding and retention of what was read. These stories are available in libraries (both school and public) and in bookstores and online retailers to begin your own black history journey. If you need help locating good titles check out my website at martacollier.com.
The challenge of preserving a people’s culture
Many of the artifacts that detail and legitimize our history have been lost simply because we did not recognize their significance. Those that have been preserved will still go unnoticed unless we take the time to visit historical sites, archives and museums to expose our children and ourselves to our rich history. The institution of slavery is a great example of history we may simply choose to forget due to its painful and humiliating nature. However, Director Bunch reminds us that the true quality of the greatness in black people is particularly evident in our spiritual and intellectual strengths that brought us through slavery and segregation. These are invaluable lessons our children need to survive a 21st century onslaught of racism and intolerance so evident today.
Tune in next week when I’ll continue the conversation on the next two challenges.
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