Make History – Lift Your Voice – Get Involved
Lift Your Voice!
Everybody Knows….Back in the day almost anyone could sing a song everyone knew. From age 8-80 we could all at least hum along. Call me corny, but I can’t help but think that was good.
Songs, like stories are primal expressions of who we are and more importantly who we might become. Right about now we need that. I’m teaching my kids “Lift Every Voice & Sing”
If you’ve forgotten it, drop us a line and we’ll send you the lyrics and an MP3.
One Song…500 Voices…
Have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, ‘Til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
Out of the journey of Africans in America came a song from prayers uttered over the many centuries of our sojourn. This song was a promise that would allow us to endure countless dark nights of the soul.
This song propelled us onward as avatars, creators and giants on the moral compass of humankind. Our song was written in the blood, tears and highest aspirations of all of us. From every quarter, every hue, and every persuasion that we – Lift Every Voice and Sing.
“Lift Every Voice and Sing”, first came into public awareness as a poem on February 12, 1900. Lift Every Voice and Sing was performed by 500 school children at the Stanton School where it’s principal and the poem’s author – James Weldon Johnson, used the occasion to honor the father of African American self reliance – Booker T. Washington.
Lift Every Voice and Sing, was later set to music by Mr. Johnson’s brother, John, in 1905, as song and rallying call in defiance to the backlash of terror unleashed upon African Americans only recently emerging from the horrors of slavery and now subjected to a new set of indignities of “jim crow” and institutionalized by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the infamous Plessy vs. Ferguson case only four years before “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written in 1900. Plessy vs. Ferguson, enforced “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans as “reasonable” use of state powers thus relegating African Americans to another 5 decades of “jim crow” discrimination.
Johnson’s inspired verse called for “Earth and Heaven to Ring with the Harmonies of Liberty,” invoking in African Americans, the material and spiritual resources they would require not only to remain vigilant, but to be infused with a certainty that victory would be won in their long walk to freedom. Thus Lift Every Voice and Sing, became the freedom song which would be sung under the cover of darkness, in fields and factories gathering power until it broke through as the official national anthem of Africans in America in 1919.
Through every subsequent period of African America’s struggle, Lift Every Voice and Sing, became a common currency of purpose, uniting our people in song and in action.
“I will not allow one prejudiced person or one million or one hundred million to blight my life. I will not let prejudice or any of its attendant humiliations and injustices bear me down to spiritual defeat. My inner life is mine, and I shall defend and maintain its integrity against all the powers of hell”.
The Pledge – James Weldon Johnson
110 years later, Johnson’s pledge is as poignant and powerful as ever. Lift Every Voice and Sing is our clarion call to action.
The Background: Why Now?
In 2000, veteran activist, television producer and show host, founder of The Family Resource -House of Unity, Edward Abrams joined forces with a broad cross section of community leaders, churches and publicly elected officials in Oakland California , in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Lift Every Voice & Sing, in 1900.
Abrams was joined by Oakland’s community and some of America’s most inspired thought leaders and scholars such as – Prof. Molefe Asante (Temple University), celebrated as one of the world’s top 100 thinkers.
10 years later, the hard won freedoms of African Americans are under greater attack than ever, as the “new right” symbolized by newly elected “tea party” candidate – US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, when he declared – “the 1964 civil right bill is out of step with the values of mainstream America”.
It is said in Africa “that the dying buffalo kicks the hardest”. On the eve of a new dispensation for African Americans and the world, is it not patently clear that “freedom ain’t free” and must be continuously cherished and protected.
We Lift Our Voices…
Participants from over 50 cities and states will join forces in the kick off of a series of on-line and live events around the country. Community organizations, churches, trade unions, local governments and artists will be called to acknowledge, celebrate and unite around the transformative power of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as an anchor and way forward in our quest for genuine liberation.
The digital divide will be shattered, as communities throughout the country are given the tools and support necessary to bring their voices, opinions and user generated content to the world wide web. Social networks, blogs and websites will form the base for a new generation of activists, entrepreneurs, artists and thought leaders drawn from the very heart of African America.
It is envisioned that out of the events and community networks will be born the impetus for a new movement that builds new institutions around the power and vibrancy of the collective will of a people who have come to realize that – We are because of Them and Now is Our Time, to fulfill the promise of a 1,000 generations of struggle, toil and prayer.
This weekend marked the commencement of Juneteenth, a week commemorating the abolition of slavery or rather, that moment when former slaves finally became aware that chattel slavery had been legislated out of existence.
Over the course of this week of celebration, African Americans will be called to acknowledge the history of their extraordinary journey over nearly 400 years of struggle and triumph over odds that represent the very best of the human condition. Ours is without doubt, one of the greatest stories ever told. In the midst of the parties, cook-outs and general festivities one can not help but sense the spirits of those countless souls who journeyed before us.
What dreams and aspirations did they conjure and faithfully hold over centuries? With what eye, were they able to see a future in which their offspring might walk upright as fully formed beings, grounded in an awareness of their divinity. Or that one day, their children might live to bring into being a moment when the notion of limitation because of race or place of origin would be forever torn asunder and that never again would any among them be made to believe they could not be, do, or accomplish anything…at all.
Our glorious ancestors set before us a path towards the realization of our highest selves. We all know however, that this path is not easy, lined as it is with many diversions, the greatest of which being the illusion of separation. Believing we are separate from each other, our history and even the creative force which made us, forces us to labor in the pain of ignorance of an unimaginably boundless inheritance placed in escrow by our ancestors.
As we are called to remember, we must also be aware that memory is not merely the static recall of events from the past. Memory is best served when connected to the present, as the fuel of inspiration that causes us to mine the gifts of our history. Using the creative power of memory, what institutions should we preserve and build as living, flourishing testimony to our greatness?
If we see memory as the dynamic field on which we move forward is it not reasonable to ensure that the first of those institutions be one built around our story? Our story taught, sung, ciphered, painted, written and seen on screens big and small. Our story nurtured in as many ways as we dare imagine.
This year marks the 110th anniversary of James Weldon Johnson’s telling of our story in the heroic anthem – Lift Every Voice and Sing. What place does this heroic anthem hold in our collective consciousness ?
Most of us struggle to recall even the first stanza. Many of our children have not heard it sung nor heard of it even. Anywhere – ever. Might we start here with the view that this song, really a praise poem, prayer and call to action be lifted out of the dim, dark place of frozen memory. That we breathe in it new life which births a storm of contemporary interpretations, versions and genres. That we be inspired by the very same creative impetus that inspired Johnson over 100 years ago.
The power of story is as primary to the human experience as our notion of family or self even. When we recognize this we, tap more deeply the reserves of who we truly are. As we glimpse we are and can be we unite with that which has always been ours. An inheritance of boundless possibility.
Now is the time! African Americans historic struggles for a fundamental transformation in the way this country operates and sees itself is truly underway. But change and even more so transformation is not easy. The roots of change run throughout our history guiding us through our darkest days.
Resistance however, is a by product of the forces of change and require vigilance and commitment. We see this playing out every day in the media, within the politics of resistance characterized in the hateful antics of the “tea party” or Republican filibustering as a singular response to every suggestion or proposal of President Obama.
Our silence in these matters actually speaks volumes. It helps pass racist legislation in Arizona, it reverses affirmative action policy in California and invites discussion around the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as policy now inconsistent with mainstream American values.