For the first time in three years Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project has not scheduled a public remembrance ceremony for August 23rd. It feels strange. This year each person is on an individual, perhaps private, path of remembrance. The day remains the same: The International Day of Remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Its Abolition as declared by the United Nations. There are a number of activities sponsored by UN affiliates, but perhaps more important this will be for many a day of personal reflection. At each ceremony in which we have been involved we have encouraged attendees to honor and remember ancestors at family gatherings, special events, and in times of need or celebration. This may be the year to do that by resolving to regularly reflect on our ancestors – their strength and ability to survive, on their faith in a better future, on their hope that we would appreciate the good and learn from the bad. This is the season of family reunions, please honor your ancestors. If possible record the memories of the elders.
Whether or not we are able to go back generations to know from whom we descend and upon whose shoulders we stand really should not matter. In his poem, Clfiton II, Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X. Walker speaks to the importance of remembering those who came before us. However, this poem is not limited to a specific family, place or time; it reflects appropriately the many connections all of us have with the lives of our ancestors.
If I thought it made a difference I’d round up everybody I know bring them to this place this Clifton let them see what used to be ours. If I thought it mattered I’d bring my son and daughter my nieces and nephews to the old school house and draw detailed maps in the air that highlighted the thirty-three beautiful acres bordered by the long slow curve of the dix river. If I thought they’d listen I’d produce a powerpoint presentation featuring all the faded yellow photographs in aunt willie’s archives. I’d point to clean white dresses leather boots and knickers and the serious look on granddaddy’s ten-year-old face and how much we all favored each other even then even under a hat. I’d pass around a restored print of their great great grandmother margaret who passed when mama e was just six months old hoping they recognized the high cheekbones and regal disposition that survived five generations of mothers and daughters and deaths boldly suggesting that their own beauty wasn’t accidental that it was actually a precious family heirloom. Projecting an IMAX-sized photo of mama e’s graduating class on the wall I’d draw attention to the proud and focused faces standing and kneeling in two-feet-high weeds wearing dark caps and gowns like gold crowns and kente clutching diplomas like freedom passes holding on to each other with their eyes. If I thought it was worth the effort I would try not to be too anxious or too teary eyed while I hoped at least one of them would memorize these things and pass it on until it mattered.
Honor your past and our ancestors, make it matter.