When I was a child, I lived with my grandmother for 6 years of my life. I had to deal with the old traditionalist methods of coming inside when the streets lights came on or only listening to gospel music on Sundays. Yesterday my grandmother turned 78, and she is still as lively as ever, living in Tupelo, Mississippi.
What would you do if you had living, breathing history right in front of you? If someone could tell you first hand what the great depression was like from an eight-year-olds perspective. Or if you could hear about old people fighting for equality when they were teenagers, when risk was higher and safety was not just a “ride home” away. What if someone could give you anecdotes about a time before I-pods and XM radio, an instant before HD flat screen television and movies being watched on blue-ray disc? What if you could hear about race riots, corruption, and struggle?
What If you could listen to history from the voices of the oppressed, instead of the perpetrators who are usually in power? What if? Would you listen? Would you pause your busy life and take the time to hear these stories. Is it more important than your Friday night movie, your Saturday night club, your weekly outing?
If you could, would you?
Well, you can. You can experience a primary source of history through our grandparents and great grandparents, through volunteering at nursing homes, and talking to the church elders. There are so many people around us everyday of our lives that are eager to talk about the past and their perspective on how society has arrived to where we are today.
Just as youth struggle to be heard, I believe that our senior citizens have an equal struggle also. If they are not being condescended, than they are only being listened to out of respect for their age. I think we miss great opportunities to better ourselves by not using these stories to learn from the past.
Here is an excerpt from a poem that I wrote. I wrote the poem right after being downtown at Chicago’s Grant Park, when Obama gave his acceptance speech on November 4th, 2008. The whole experience just caused me to think of all those in the past (many who are still alive today) that shed their sweat and blood for the equality of those who would come after them. I encourage everyone to find a senior citizen, hear his or her story, and learn from it.
“They were there,
when oppressed voices were silenced
in crooked corners,
facing crooked policy officers
that turned hooked fingers,
to shoot messages that wanted nothing
but the status quo not to be challenged.
They were there,
when voting meant dying,
because freedom became
three time less important,
when three kids sit at home hungry,
and death was never on the answer key,
especially when your just a young child,
old enough to read,
but not old enough to understand,
because their granddad didn’t pass
the literacy test
that the board of elections gave him,
They were there,
staring down the barrel
of a bullet home, eyes closed,
in a sea of darkness
getting hit by hates fist,
yellow and red dots mixing
together in a symphony of blackness,
as those who wanted change
were beaten by those
who were comfortable
with the way things were”