(Here’s a transcribed version of my verbal Black History Month speech as Keynote Speaker at Potter’s Hand Church Ministries in Huntsville, AL 2/28/11.)
Good Morning Potter’s Hand,
What a blessing it is to stand before you on this day, giving honor to my Pastor, Eric Peeples, and his wife, First Lady Fannie Peeples.
Please turn with me to James 1: 1-8. (Pause for them to find page) James is speaking to the scattered tribes of Israel. And it reads, “Consider it pure Joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” I have just read to you from James chapter 1, verses 1-8.
Now, I want to talk with you today on the subject of “Be Bold, You Have a Legacy”. I know we have all heard the saying that you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you been. It’s true! And not only that, but there is no way you can even begin to know WHO you are until you begin to understand WHO they were. Who is this “they” that I’m talking about? It’s your ancestors; the roots from which you came.
I’m here to tell you that if you believe those history books—the ones not written by us—you will be depressed, head hung down, feeling rejected, and disenfranchised! Those books tell us that we come from savage people who were taken from their native lands and sold like bags of goods at the marketplace. They tell us that our peoples’ only worth was in providing services to others. They were slaves for the better fit members of society. Listen now, because I’m telling you to put aside those one-sided textbooks, and get to know from whom and where you really came. As Pastor is always saying, “You’re royalty!”
You didn’t come from a dejected group of people. Your people were proud, resourceful and determined. I know this is Black History Month, and every year, especially in most schools, they only highlight certain Africans and African Americans. I’m going to give you the rundown on a few of those individuals but I also want you to know about a very special man who is often overlooked. Are you still with me, Potter’s Hand?
Okay, let’s see, you know Sojourner Truth who was born a slave. Faced many hardships on the plantation, and was sold time and time again. You know, she was once sold along with a herd of sheep for only $100! But she didn’t allow her situation to force her to give up, instead she turned to religion; found her solace in God. Truth took her freedom, went on to become a preacher and began asking “Ain’t I Woman?” She became great, probably greater than she knew at the time. Sojourner Truth didn’t know whom all she was standing up for but she stood anyhow. Are we willing to make those kids of sacrifices today? See, it’s not so much about what you do right now or the accolades that you get right now. It’s more about what you are leaving behind, the legacy that you are leaving for other generations. And did she not leave a great legacy for us to step into?
How about Harriet Tubman; oh, we hear about her all the time, don’t we? Harriet was fierce with a shotgun in hand, she demanded her freedom. But not only that, she came back, deep into the treacherous territory of the slave states, and escorted over 300 slaves out. She was a bad woman and she’s a part of YOUR history!
Oh, there’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Black History Month is not much without him. This man had a dream which included all of his brothers and sisters, black and white. Dr. King vocalized that dream and, as a result, he paid the ultimate price for his dream. And, here we are today, afraid to even dream, let alone take a stand, and risk our lives for any of our dreams.
Or what about Malcolm X, who vowed to protect his brothers and sisters by “any means necessary.” Brother Malcolm faced down the worst kinds of racism, and in the end he was able to see humanity in all of mankind; although Malcolm gave his life in that fight, are we not better for it. Honestly, can we say that we are our brother’s keeper today?
These are our roots, and it’s long past time that we truly start to honor them. It’s not enough to simply mention them once a year. How can you honor those great roots you have? Be bold in your own lives; let’s make their lives and their dreams worthwhile.
Now, we know or at least have heard of those great African Americans and that legacy I just mentioned. But, if you will, let me give you a brief synopsis on a lesser mentioned figure: the man who got all of this started. Carter G. Woodson was born in 1850 and deceased in 1950. Woodson was the son of former slaves. He couldn’t attend school regularly because he had to help support his family. Nevertheless, Woodson taught himself the fundamentals of grade school by the age of 17. He later enrolled in the formal education system and became only the second African American to earn his PhD. in 1912. Woodson was a historian, a journalist, and an author.
Most importantly, he became known as the father of Black History. You see, Woodson was doing all of this studying of American history and he noticed no one was talking about the accomplishments of HIS people. Now, he knew that Black people didn’t just come out of nowhere. See, everything (and everyone) has a story and a history. Why should we be any different? No, there is definitely history in our heritage. Since Woodson couldn’t find it in the books he read, he took the liberty of putting our history into those books. He created encyclopedias and anthologies noting great African American men and women. Woodson didn’t stop there, and thank God he didn’t! He said putting our history into words on pages was not enough but that a specific time should be set aside to celebrate our people and our legacy.
In 1926, Woodson created Negro History Week; it was designated for the second week of February. Why this month? He wanted to commemorate the birthdays of former slave and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. 50 years later Negro History Week was expanded to Black History Month.
One whole month people, to become familiar with and celebrate who you are and where you come from. Use it wisely! But I say to you today that the wisest amongst us wouldn’t just take a month! Every day, 365 is a chance to celebrate, own, and love your roots.
Woodson once stated that “Race prejudice is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.” Do we get what Woodson is saying here? That the system was designed to convince African Americans that they are nothing because they have never contributed anything to the advancement of their race! Come on now, I know you won’t believe that any longer. Your people were bold and determined and they DID contribute to this society.
This man didn’t let family concerns, racism, hardships, or negativity stand in the way of his goals. He left a legacy we all can be proud of. Add Carter G. Woodson to your catalog of common African American greats who you remember every February. And remember not only his name, or any of their names for that matter, remember their sacrifices so that you and your children’s children could have just a little bit more freedom than they had.
So, the next time you come to the end of your rope and feel like nobody knows your troubles—think of your legacy and your roots! The same man they all turned to to hear their troubles, is still standing by the line and hearing yours as well!
You do have an inheritance, an inheritance to greatness. All you have to do is claim it! Potter’s Hand, you come from a heritage of great, strong people! Now, tell me, if you would, how is it that you can walk around with your head hanging down and with fear in your heart? Get a dream, a mission, or a goal. Believe it, manifest it in your spirit, and do as your ancestors before you did—vow death before you allow ANYONE to take it from you!
Now it’s your turn. What legacy will you create? I want to leave you with these parting words: Persevere! DO NOT let the first sign of trouble or closed door turn you back! Be bold, remember, honor, and continue to add to this great legacy we have!