There’s an arresting passage in James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, aka the Black National Anthem, that paints the historical black experience in vivid and heart-rending strokes. It says:
“Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope
Unborn had died…”
Pause to imagine that. Imagine a moment so horrifically bleak as to kill the very opportunity to ever know hope — to never be hopeful.
If we accept hope is existence’s lifeblood, or at minimum that force which impells us toward a new day – the thing that urges us to reach down and push forward one more puff of air when we’d rather stop breathing – then what must it be like to have that stolen from an entire race of people? What of the generations that ascended believing the very act of hoping was meaningless and futile – that the mere glimpse of hope was dead on arrival, that it died in utero?
That is the barren land from which our fertile crops have grown. To begin to understand the descendants of African slaves’ present circumstance and celebration, one must appreciate that they have emerged from and have been propelled beyond such a time as that.
The greatness of our greatest leader, or achievements of our most accomplished doers or perils over which we prevail daily find their seed and root and stem there. In that place, we have learned to discover hope at despair’s tombstone.
From a place of hopelessness have we mightily come forward. Now, the conversation may begin.
-Jonathan A. Clarke
(c) Copyright 2017, Jonathan Clarke, All Rights Reserved