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By Sarah James-Cyrus

Monday, October 11, 2010.

It’s October, so for most, our thoughts will turn to the celebration of Black History month.  Perfectly placed soon after the beginning of the school term and the end of holidays, it gives us the opportunity to focus on Black contributors, pay homage to our ancestors and promote awareness of black people and our heritage. For most, it will highlight achievements, put things into perspective and give rise to celebrations, but for some, it might unearth an inner struggle. The balance is difficult! Whilst the older generation, (who possess a certain mindset), hold on to their experiences and remain in the past. The younger generation are dismissive, unaware and fail to see its significance to them.

I agree with the comments of Maya Angelou: Your history defines you and when you look at the inspirational actions/inventions and extreme bravery of our ancestors, how could you choose to remain ignorant? Look at Mary Seacole, Nat Turner, Carter Godwin Woodson, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, W.E.B Dubois, all pioneers and activists, who saw through the propaganda and risked their lives to get their messages across.   Consider the fact that we went from  people designated to being domestic servants or agriculturists, (put politely), to recognised artists, actors and sports personalities, (Hattie Mcdaniel , Andrew Watson, Mohammed Ali), to name but a few.

These inspirational personalities continue to inspire. This is evident if you look at some of the leading figures in our society today. Whilst there is always room for growth, we have continued to penetrate leading fields, whether it is in medicine, legal enforcement, politics or the entertainment Industry. Barrack Obama, Diane Abbott , Nelson Mandela and Valerie Amos have made their mark in the political world, whilst the entertainment industry have succumbed to the unarguable talents of people like Maya Angelou, Ella Fitzgerald, Spike Lee, Sir Trevor Macdonald, Sidney Poitier not forgetting, my man – Denzel Washington. In sports, we have seen the emergence of human rockets and people pushing physical limits such as Usain Bolt, Kelly Holmes, Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton. Music has lost the King of Pop, but his legendry moves and hits will continue to inspire young artists, just ask Neyo and Dizzy Rascal.

However, there is a darker side, one that is often swept under the carpet. There are those who show disrespect to the memory of these heroes and use their achievements to manifest them into selfish aspirations. Those who are immune to the struggle and succumb to the get rich scams of robbery, drug pushing, prostituting and degrading others. Are you aware of the ‘Black Codes? After slavery was legally abolished, there were those who wanted to prolong the mental torture, and sought to restrict black people from entering certain areas, sitting in certain places or to have their say. Today we have the right to speech, to vote, go where we please without prejudiced, however, it seems that some are still stuck in that mental prison.

We still have gangs that live by their postcodes, men who traffic young girls as prostitutes and songs that use derogatory terms and degrade young women. Black on Black violence is at its worst, stereotypes continue, interracial couples are still frowned upon by some and if you are successful, you are not necessarily going to be admired for it.

Slavery still exists in places like The Sudan and Eritrea, so it is difficult to see why some black people continue to fall victim to the self-fulfilling prophecy. When you consider that those who were treated like animals, (witnessing  floggings, murders, mutilations and restrictions), are the same people who made the dangerous decision to make that difference, one might struggle as to why some refuse to work, live by the gun and revel in hatred.

To them the message is lost. There is no battle!  It is easy to sit back and wonder what you can do as an individual, but if there is one thing you should learn from this month, it is that out of one, follow hundreds, millions even. It is important that we take heed of our heroes’ words, we should not live in the past or the present, but look to the future. Discard selfish inspirations, respect their memory and draw from the courage of these individuals.

Remember, you will make a bigger impact if you prove people wrong by slipping through the net and making a difference rather than getting caught up in it.

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dreams and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise” - Maya Angelou

Sarah James-Cyrus is a trainee barrister and currently works as a Communications Officer for the Metropolitan Police Service in London.


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