The Waymakers

Reflections by BLK Artists on BLK Creativity

Reinvention of a People, an Essay by Barbara Ann Teer

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Long Story Short:

Read this timeless critical essay by Dr. Barbara Ann Teer published on August 14,1997 in the New York Amsterdam News. From the Abstract: Barbara Ann Teer calls upon African Americans to restore a new commitment to furthering the progress of blacks. Teer provides an historical background of African ancestors to emphasize her point of where modern blacks need to go in the future.

The Civil Rights Movement is dead, but is death the end or just a transition leading us into a new reality? Will the cultural experience of “Blackness” become obsolete? Is it possible that the Black Power movement has become a phenomenon of the past, quickly fading into the darkness of the night and rapidly disappearing like the dinosaur? Have we Black people accepted this death in America as though this resigned mental condition is easier to maintain than restoring a new commitment to life?

What is the not yet forseeable future for Black youth in America? Has the promise of our African ancestors been fulfilled? Have we “freedom fighters” reaped all the benefits from their birth visions, their commitments, labor and love? Our ancestor’s labor and love provided the very building blocks for the economic viability of this great superpower called America. So, who are we as a people? Why has this debt never been paid? What form of payment, if any, are we asking toreceive? Perhaps the answer lies in ancient Africa…

When our ancestors granted the Europeans permission to come into their homeland more than 400 years ago, was it not out of their magnanimity, great love and respect for all humankind that this entry occurred? Is it  possible that in their daily business  interactions  with these strangers  from a foreign  land, they noticed a different cultural background, a different interpretation about the reality of life and living? In the face of discovering and accepting these two different perceptions about what it means to be human, they formed a partnership. Is it possible that the issue of slavery was received as an entrepreneurial venture by both parties?

Historical Background

Our African ancestors were the originators of creative expression. They brought the fine arts to this planet. They were wise sourceful beings, deeply committed and devoted to everyone realizing their full creative potential. So perhaps, these white-faced strangers from a sun scorched foreign land appeared to be spiritual babies who possessed very little knowledge about the power of the creative process, the true nature of spirit or the joy and celebration of the oneness of life. Thus, upon witnessing the phenomenon of this cultural difference and while standing in awe and wonderment with these strangers’ technological abilities and accomplishments, our ancestors seized the opportunity to become the channel to  guide the future direction of the Western world. They choose to come as selfless servers to set the tone and move the western society up to the next zone. They volunteered themselves into a serving position and in that moment of choice, they took responsibility for the spiritual evolution and balance of the Western world.

Perhaps, they proposed a partnership which took much courage, capacity and love, but it was out of this proposition of partnership that our ancestors stepped out by the millions moving throughout the unknown. They came to this new world as a spiritual force in exchange for a promise to be able to learn the materialistic and technological ways of the Western world.

As apprentices of technology, their vision was to have complete mastery in a world where material well-being was king. Yes, these spiritual giants le their motherland and came across the ocean as a

collective messiah to awaken the creative power latent in Western man. Our forefathers fortified them with a courage and compassion to start their lives anew and the world has never been the same.

This great vision and masterful decision made it necessary for  them to restructure their  language,  culture and history. It required them to totally redesign  who they  were. On one level, our  mission demanded  that our vision of history, culture and language, in fact our entire African  identity,  become transparent.  Our culture became invisible and that is the price we paid, but what  we forgot to  negotiate  were the  conditions of satisfaction for this great partnership.

Our tools of communication, the drum, language, family and relationships, suddenly  became  interrupted. Our human bodies became the instruments of communication  and music, dance and song became the secret language to give and receive direction, guidance and communication from our gods. To fuse our spiritual reality with their material reality and bring forth a new, committed culture, a new race of people: whole, complete, fully expressive human beings in a new  land which the  Europeans  declared to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” This was our ancestors’ vision.

In 1984, is the job getting done, or is there still more work for us to do before America can complete our ancestors’ vision of spiritual evolution and a fulfilled promise of material well-being? When will these two complimentary halves become whole? As fourth-generation Americans (since emancipation), must we continue to hold European Americans accountable for our past labor? Perhaps there is no power in our present conversation about the past.

All that is present is a conversation we are having amongst ourselves, talking about the injustices of slavery, oppression, suffering, poverty and pain. I assert that this conversation has limited our future possibilities here in America. This is 1984, so are we willing to let go of the past and write off the whole

trip as building a foundation for unity and love? Is it possible to shift our priorities and put the vision back in place. The past is dead and will never return!

The consequences of refusing to let go of the past have resulted in our living someone else’s interpretation of history and culture. We speak someone else’s language; so as African people born in America, how effective can we be? What is missing? What effective means of communication must we invent to replace the ones we gave up? Are we choosing to retire our Black identity too soon? Is it possible that a time will come when “Blackness” will be no more? If so, will we survive America?

The year 2000 is rapidly approaching. With the coming of this highly technological age, an age were the computer is king, will this racial distinction of “Blackness”  still be useful?  What kind of human  beings are we talking about when we speak of being Black? If the cultural experience of “Blackness”  is dying, what was the cultural experience for Black people before the Civil Rights Movement? What has the experience been after the words “Black Power” were spoken? Have we forgiven and accepted our position of selfless service here and in taking responsibility for our making  America  the  greatest  nation in the  world? Have we accepted our death as a transition or are we still afraid to die?

Since death is inevitable, for some of us dying is no big thing. In the words of our ancestors, “I wouldn’t mind dying, if dying  wuz  all.”  Death  and  dying, like “Blackness,”  is not  static, it  is not a thing, it  is a word that sometimes  describes  a  people. “I  am Black” is a declaration  of being. Will the  death of his word create a new  beginning, an opening  for us to discover  a new  place of economic power, a new reality, a whole new way of speaking and accomplishment in the domain of material well being?

Perhaps  it  is time for us to  strip down to  the  very core of  our social way  of being and look  deeply into the “whatness” of our “Blackness” and examine critically whether “Blackness” as a social phenomenon is effective in today’s time.

If we declare that it is time for this distinction to die, then it is altogether fitting and proper that we bury “Blackness” and celebrate and acknowledge ourselves for what the speaking of that declaration, “I am Black,” created in this world. There were hundreds and thousands of people in the ’60s at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, seeking, searching for cultural identity of power; mesmerized by Jesse Jackson’s call, “Who are you?” and those dry bones rising up blindly responding “I am Somebody.”

In the  depths of our  passion, screaming  from the pits of our souls, letting go of  the  illusion, breaking  out of the mask and struggling to declare who we were, a new commitment to life was revealed. We learned from living our lives our on the edge, asking questions, seeking answers, being in the heart of life. Like deflated balloons, the dead began to wake up from a long, long sleep. As the dead began to rise out of their graves, and dry  bones connected  to  other  dry bones, we were speaking  the  words of  “Black Power,” and “I am Black and I am Proud.”

Yes, Black, like death, is but a word and the Bible says, “In  the beginning  was the  word… ” Was that really the beginning? In the ’60s, the word became a stand, which brought into existence something that was not present before. The stand was lived by the people who first spoke the word. From the first two lips of the very first Black person uttering this word, came a shift of will and a new possibility of commitment and power.

Blackness was no longer a skin color, it was no longer a state of mind or an intellectual concept, it was not something you sat around the coffee table talking about. It was not a thing to describe, report or explain. The word had impact. The word produced effective action all over the world. It became a weapon, like the shot heard  ’round the world. It  attempted  to  blow up,  fend off  and dissolve  400 years of somebody else’s history which had created an illusion of oppression, suffering and pain.

Yes, when somebody else’s idea of our world was cleared by, we began to break the verbal chains of bondage and celebrate the magnificence of who we were. The word cut deep, shook us out of our apathy and deep sleep, altered and widened the  way we looked at ourselves.  Yes, there is now present a new sense of power, dignity and boldness in our speaking.

A new enthusiasm was generated which gave us the guts to keep on redefining, re-educating and restructuring our lives. An intense mood of self-determination and self-reliance was initiated. This overwhelming creative force affected the density of our lives. Around the world a global shift took place and music and dance was still the language of our gods.

In Black communities across  America,  little children became empowered  as they declared  “!  am young, I am Black, that’s where it’s at, and that’s a fact.” As a result, they altered the whole course of history from this stand  of who I  am.  The  ’60s was an era  rich in politics,  poetry, inspiration, creativity and Black art. It was a period of passion and high powered emotions. A new conversation about Black people, confidence  and self-love  was generated.  Nevertheless,  this is 1984.  You can’t take poetry, passion or emotions to the bank. If “we shall overcome someday… ,” that someday must be now, right now! Many Black people died because of the Civil Rights Movement; my sister was one and her death has not been in vain. Her commitment to humanity still lives inside me. Because of her tutoring, I  have reached the  mountain  top of “Blackness”  and now it  is time  for me to  learn to  climb up to the  next plateau.  We are all, in our own special  ways, climbing toward the  year  2000, standing on the shoulders of our ancestors as they watch us from the watch tower of power, showering us with their blessings and commitments of love, encouraging us to keep climbing.

Since the ’60s, we’ve had plenty of time to practice playing this material well-beingness game; with the coming of the wonders of high technology, our apprenticeship has been forced to come to an end. What is keeping us from reaching a level of economic and business mastery before this new era of technology begins? We know everything there is to know about survival.  We collectively  spend 400 billion dollars a year. We’ve mastered the rules of the  spending  game. Is  it  our lack  of  commitment, our incompetence or our negative assessments  about  ourselves  that  keep  us from fully  participating as partners in this global “hard-ball” game? Are we still committed to reaping the benefits which came from our ancestors’ labor and love?

If so, it’s time for us to stop our spiritual baby sitting; for all of us are grown up now and Black folks have lasted longer and turned out stronger. Nevertheless, maybe we’re still afraid to die? Or maybe we’ve only been hungry for fame and fortune; wanting only to hear how good we are, wanting to be the heroes, but not wanting to pay the price; wanting to share in the harvest, but not committed to working the fields.

We will only achieve mastery in  “hard-ball”  to the degree that we are committed to  walking  out on the playing field and stepping up to the plate. Remember, if you choose to play the game of “hard­ ball,” it’s important that you remember where you come from. We were the ones willing to turn the world around, the acknowledged “Selfless Servers” who struggled through the confusion of it all.

Niggas, Negroes, Militants, Blacks and Revolutionaries, on a quest for a new identity and we’ve come to the end of the line. We’ve set all the moral standards and invented all the creative trends. We’ve kept our part of the bargain. Why did we get such a raw deal from the financial end? We’ve clocked in our time, contributed the labor which build and fortified this land. So we’re calling into being a new relationship, because our extinction might well be at hand.

We tried holding on to our suffering and pain, blaming the “white man” for inventing these material well-beingness games. We’ve resisted and persisted the pressures of the white man’s time, always showing up late, standing in the back of the line. We’ve been singing and dancing, praising and

raising ever since we got off the boat, but the luxury of our Black arrogance won’t allow us to revoke our promise and simply refuse to play this game. Well, we’ve run out of alternatives and options and the clock is ticking away every day.

The time has come for us to turn our 400 years of inspiration, passion and Black creativity into money in the bank. When we do,  we will have discovered the  road to  the  superhighway  ’cause “it’s a highway to heaven.” Talk is cheap. Take the  leap.  Are we afraid to  take the  stand  and declare that we are an African people, born in America? When we do, we can close the door to our past conversations about our oppressive history — for that is the place in which our negative assessments were born — and then authentically re-robe ourselves in glory and honor, humbly facing the sun, in praise of our place of origin.

This is the opportunity for us to return to the possibility that we are when we take the stand, “I am a human being of African descent born in America.” Then we can take on this challenge and walk down the “all men are created equal” road, drumming on the keys of the computer, taking responsibility for positively altering the possibilities for humankind in the western world.

We can invent the possibility for everyone to live their lives from day to day, like a powerful poetic work of art, a dance or a new play, where each  of us is our  own  author,  director,  producer  and star. In  each  moment,  we have the  power, the  unalienable  right, to alter our actions  and reinterpret the circumstances of our lives. In each moment,  we have the  freedom to  speak,  write and invent our own scripts. Invent our own beginning, middle and end, for we are heirs of a great vision, and a people without vision will soon die.

What new declaration must we be to  stay  abreast with these high technological  times? For the  age of the computer is coming and with it our obsoleteness is at hand. It’s on its way to Africa and we still have not claimed our motherland. So be clear that when we speak about Blackness,  we are talking about inspiration and soul. How could we be talking about material well-being and high technology when we left our tools of communication behind? Our tools were our language and the rhythms of the drum. The drum sent a committed language across the air waves and the computer can do that too. So today we have two choices available to us: continue our assessments about Blackness and what happened in the past, or sort out our commitments  through the computer  and live our ancestors’ visions at last.

On the way up the  mountain to  mastery, practice  playing on the  keys of the  computer, the same way we learned to  play the  rhythms of the drum. Learn to tap  out  our commitments  as we coordinate the activities of our lives, communicating across the air waves, bringing forth a new possibility of  who we are. If  we’re up to  keeping  our promise to  mastery, we must commit to  play the game full out. For we have the right and power to reinvent ourselves and determine how it all· turns out.

If we are committed to reaping the benefits of our ancestors’ vision and labor, we must learn to master all high technology applications. Then we will be able to move effectively from Africa to America.. .from America to the sun… back to the place of our origin, faster than the speed of lightning. With the computer we can break up our old victim patterns and thought forms, while speaking and listening committedly … networking across the world… returning to the original vision… with the promise of mastery fulfilled…

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

In the name of our ancestors and all our African gods, who came from a place called cyberspace… a place beyond the mind… Let us move forward into the nineties, unified and whole, reinventing ourselves with both material and spiritual well-being as our goals… for together we are a mighty race and the  time has come for  us to take our rightful  place… Yes, now is the time for us to move toward One Love.


Copyright New York Amsterdam News Aug 14, 1997

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