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'Why We Cannot Forget...What We Need to Remember..
 
By: Archie Wortham

"Why We Cannot Forget...What We Need to Remember, and What we Owe Our Parents"

First I want to recognize three icons. I want to give honor to our country, our parents, and our Creator. Much like wives, our fate rest in their hands…much like the hands of the

"woman who accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After his checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from a very severe disease, combined with horrible stress. If you don’t do the following, your husband will surely die. Each morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant, and make sure he is in a good mood. For lunch make him a nutritious meal he can take to work. And for dinner, prepare an especially nice meal for him. Don’t burden him with chores, as this could further his stress. Don’t discuss your problems with him; it will only make his stress worse. Try to relax your husband in the evening by wearing lingerie and giving him plenty of back rubs. Encourage him to watch some type of team sporting event on television. And most importantly, make love with your husband several times a week and satisfy his every whim. If you can do this for the next 10 months to a year, I think your husband will regain his health. On the way home the husband asked his wife, “What did the doctor say?” Without taking a breath she said, 'You’re going to die.'"

But seriously, America is a great country. Lots of things have been accomplished by her that no other country has accomplished. America is young. People seem to forget when you think of other countries, America is like a teen-ager suffering with acne as she’s trying to learn from countries like Europe, Asia and Africa. But I'm proud to live here, and I’m proud to be an American. I'm also proud of my parents who, like many parents gave a lot to help me be where I am. Too often kids neglect to honor their parents, and by asking me to speak here, you honor parents. Thank you.

One of the things I remember growing up is being taken to church. I was raised by an aunt, my dad's oldest sister, who looked to God for strength. Every night before she went to bed, and every morning as soon as she got up, she thanked her Lord for helping her through one day, and blessing her to see another.

In honoring our Creator, [and I don't care who says I can't or shouldn't] it would be disrespectful if I didn't give glory to the Almighty. By honoring God, I honor our parents. By honoring God, I let my kids know THAT I KNOW I am but an instrument, His instrument, and as long as I am alive, H-e is not finished with me yet. And I’m still trying to give HIM my best.

I am going to talk about three things today. But first let me tell you when Mrs. Bowers asked me to come speak here...I hesitated a moment. But I've known Mrs. Bowers a long time, and it was out of respect for her thinking I could do this that I realized that she too was an instrument. So I'm here to speak to you about Brown vs. the Board of Education.

When this Supreme Court decision was rendered on the 17th of May 1954, I was only 3 years old. Most people don’t know there were two Brown vs. the Board of Education decisions.

Brown I mandated the desegregation of schools, or that ‘separate’ was no longer ‘equal.’ But it was THE INTEPRETATION of Brown II’s “with all deliberate speed” decision that slowed desegregation.

Though Brown I’s decision was unanimous, the separate but equal policy was not discarded, and still remains strong in many areas. Bussing STILL happens not only in rural areas, but also in Boston. So when Larcene mentioned focusing on the 50th celebration of Brown, my first thoughts were: ”Why We Cannot Forget...What We Need to Remember, and What we Owe Our Parents."

Kids today, don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated against. But they are. And as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told us more than 40 years ago, until America allows content of character to overtake color of skin we have not overcome.

Now I mentioned I was going to talk about three things: they are: racism; prejudice; and discrimination.

I plan to share my perspective of where we were, where we are now, and let you choose where we go from here as you define racism, prejudice, and discrimination.

I’m not a prophet, but I might sound like one before I’m done, They say prophets either “afflict the comfort, or comfort the afflicted.” You’ll have to decide…cause Larcene told me, feel free to give you a piece of my mind and I listen to strong women. You see I married one. I have been married to the same strong woman for 21 years; so needless to say, I’ve been trained well. I am also a father of two boys. One is 13, the other is 10 and I’ll tell you this, at 53, I have to be careful about giving out pieces of my mind, because I don’t have many more to spare.

But here goes. We are all racists. We are all prejudiced, but we have to act to discriminate. I’m going to say that first part again. We are all racists. In 1997, Harvard professor Nathan Glazer stated we are all multiculturalists.

There was a time when that was vogue, hip, tight or, as my younger son would say “sweet.” In an attempt to ignore racism, many people cloaked themselves with this inclusive term. But racism is a learned thing. It is a trait that’s passed on. It can keep us from doing our best…Racism can cause us to give up.

You learn racism when you go to a “separate” but equal school. You learn racism when you are taught Columbus discovered America, but have no idea that the first person to do open heart surgery was a black man.

Our kids have no idea of what it was like for their grandparents or great grandparents to be scared to be caught reading because it was against the law to teach coloreds to read. Today’s kids take reading for granted. Our parents knew the value of education. That’s why they told us “get your education!” They knew that once we got an education “the man couldn’t take that away from us.”

And they had faith. That’s why we had “Sunday clothes.” They knew that the faith that had sustained them could also sustain us in their absence. We had Sunday clothes because we went to church. And we went to church because they took us. Wasn’t any dropping off and picking up. Know what I’m talking about?

Remember, I told you racism is learned? Now when Brown was finally argued in 1953, it was 90 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 163 years after the constitution was ratified. And it was 333 years after the first African slave was known to have been brought to the New World. Much like Juneteenth here in Texas, it was a-while before the word reached many of our schools because of the way ‘with deliberate speed’ was interpreted.

Now remember, I was 3 years old when Brown I happened. When did desegregation make it to Tennessee? That’s where I went to school. Well I graduated in May of 1968. There were 100 people in my class. No one was white. Oh the white high school was integrated in 1964, as black schools were boycotted and people demonstrated. But by the time Thanksgiving arrived in 1964, ten years afterward Brown I, things were pretty much the same in Tennessee. The most important thing I remember about the first decade under Brown I, was that schools no longer let out in the fall to pick cotton. Now that made me happy. But this deliberate speed was slow…stretched out…and deliberate.

But when I graduated from high school, I knew all my teachers. Heck, I still remember my 1st grade teacher. How many of you remember your 1st grade teacher? Mine was Mrs. Annie Laurie Logan. She was an inspiration. She loved her kids. And if you did something wrong, you’d think she was your momma, caused she’d paddle you.

Teachers cared about us then and talked to parents about potential leaders not troublemakers. Teachers coached us, told us how and why we should work harder. They took care of us. Were they racists? Of course they were. They knew if anyone was going to help black kids it was going to be black people.

So what happened? Some schools became even more racists. Many of the teachers who could teach black kids weren’t equipped to teach white kids. White schools that were forced to take black kids found a reason NOT to take black teachers. You had black boys with no role models. You had black girls viewed with the same disdain or lechery their ancestors suffered under slave owners.

Make no mistake, racism abounds! Don’t be fooled by quotas to level the playing field. Don’ t be lulled into accepting an idea that’s not yours. “IT MAY TAKE A VILLAGE TO RAISE A KID,” but whose village, and whose kid are you talking about? You look at Benjamin Davis, Colin Powell. Granted, both earned 4 stars, but read about them. Davis was a first lieutenant for ten years. Powell got an efficiency rating as a 1-star that should have ended his career. Don’t think affirmative action is your ticket. “With deliberate speed” is still here.

Don’t forget that a “mind might be a terrible thing to waste,” but if you have not had one original thought, about who you are, that has not be tainted by revisionist historians…then you better get yourself an ALEVE and wake up!!

Our folks had to deal with racism. And us? Those of us here today? We are fortunate. We only have to deal with prejudice. When people didn’t like you then, they didn’t have to hide it…and they didn’t. You knew to go to the back door. We learned to accept the back of the bus. “Yes-sir,” and “no ma’am” was something you learned long before you learned it from Uncle Sam. 50 years later…where are we? People today are prejudice…so don’t any of you think, “WE HAVE OVERCOME!” And don’t you look at me like I’m stupid. I know what I’m talking about.

Our kids are complacent, and we are either indifferent or apathetic. If it ain’t in my neighborhood, it don’t bother me. A couple of weeks ago a Trinity University sophomore told our Express News, and I quote “The ‘60s were important, but it is ju--st history to our generation unless it happens to you personally.” Will someone please tell me what’s happening to our boys in America today? They are slowly being killed by a society we have embraced? Studies indicate that American boys earn 70% of all Ds and Fs. Eighty percent of the school dropouts are boys, and two-third of special education students are also boys. Is there a problem here?

And before you discard this information, a 2003 Center for Labor Market Studies report that by 2010, for every 6 men who get a college degree, there will be 9 women. And right now, black men are being outnumbered in college by black women by a margin of 2 – 1. Like I said, there is a problem out there.

And why? Because we have failed. Our education system is principally composed of women, with the vast majority being white. Our boys are failing because our interest in fast women, fast cars, instant gratification and getting on the fast track has overcome the passion we once understood that to get to the fast track meant getting an education and taking care of our own

Blacks used to take care of blacks, but then we got convinced that blacks shouldn’t do that. ’Divide and conquer’ has always won. I didn’t always know that. And I’ve done some stupid things to prove I didn’t. Going to a predominately white university in the 60s because I got a scholarship to go there…that might have been stupid. Believing my wife [a strong woman] “really” didn’t want anything from me one Mother’s Day… NOW THAT WAS stupid. But do you realize that after going to schools for almost 22 years, I’d never thought anything about the fact I’d only had one black college professor? And yes, it was a black woman.

Or not doing something about the fact that my 13-year-old, who is now an eighth grader, had never had a black teacher. I mean stupid, stupid, stupid. But he has one now. So stupid! And why? Because no one pointed this out? No, because I didn’t notice or think about the relevancy of who was doing most of the teaching in America until a black female student at one of our local exclusive universities came up and told me I was the first black professor she had in the four years at that university. Duh?

And you know, until a black think tank reported last year, I didn’t know that in 1860, 98% of all blacks in America worked for White people; nor did I know that in 2001, 98% of all blacks in America still worked for white people. This think tank also reported that for every dollar earned by a Jewish person, that dollar touches 12 – 18 Jewish hands before it leaves their community. For every dollar earned by a black person, it leaves the community as soon as he or she earns it. It’s the old divide and conquer.

I remember working for this guy in Germany who tried to cause conflict between me and the only other black field grade in our division. Well it didn’t work. The other black officer and I learned to trust each other. We covered each other’s back. We relied on our faith. We relied on our training, and the truth. That’s one of the problems today; many of us don’t know the truth. It could hit us in the face like a headline from the National Enquirer, and we’d deny it. I mean why wouldn’t Ben Afflect marry J. Lo. Now that’s stupid, or maybe that prejudice? Ah???!!!!

But we blacks are lead to believe we can’t trust ourselves, but it appears when we are left to our own devices we’ll do the wrong thing. Look at Kobe Bryant. We are lead to believe we have overcome because we own Lexuses and phones that can interrupt us even in the bathroom. We are lead to believe we have overcome because we have DSL not dial-up, satellite not cable, a golf handicap and not a handicapped-parking permit.

But we have not overcome. We live in a prejudiced society. Booker T. Washington said, "The circumstances that surround a man's life are not important. How that man responds to those circumstances IS IMPORTANT. His response is the ultimate determining factor between success and failure."

We have to learn that. We have to learn that until we stop fighting with our fists and fight with our votes…we have not overcome.

Until we start sending more of our sons to colleges than prisons and jails, we have not overcome.

Until we realize, and help our kids realize a truth about themselves, that it is a gift to be young, gifted and black…we have not overcome.

Until YOUNG black men see OLD black men once again opening doors for their BEAUTIFUL BLACK women…we have not overcome.

Until we are able to look at a TV show and be saddened, not because a series is ending, but because after 10 years there has been no black friend that could have been included a whole season. Until we can do that…we have not overcome. Are you trying to tell me that in New York, these “friends” didn’t or couldn’t have one black friend…not even a Puerto Rican—I mean it’s New York City. Not Seattle…or even Boston where supposedly everyone knows your name. See. You see it? Prejudice, it is a manifestation of racism.

And one more thing…if you don’t have a picture, statue or sculpture in your house that celebrates your blackness, then you ain’t even in the race.

“I told you I might afflict as well as comfort.”

But that’s where we are today. Our kids go to schools, and based on where they live, many of their teachers have no idea who our kids are. And our kids are equally ignorant about us. And that’s our fault, because we have not told them who we are.

Racism is insidious and pernicious when it is masked as being a “credit to your race.” I don’t know what’s wrong with my race except for a bunch of pandering and patronizing philanthropists who think they know what’s best for me when they don’t even know me. And they tell me what they think of me when they let a black girl fall for one of their “friends” but never have a white girl date a successful black man like Sidney Poitier in “Guess Who’s coming to dinner?” I mean what’s up with that? Come on…this is New York? Get real!!!

But let’s take this to San Antonio...until you have one of your kids’ so-called friends’ parents invite you into their home, to have dinner…then you have not overcome.

So what are we going to do?? How do we overcome? Remember, I told you I was going to talk to you about racism, prejudice and discrimination. Well discrimination, that’s how we overcome.

It’s interesting as I was preparing for this speech; I realized that of these three words, only one could be used as a verb. You can be racist, you can be prejudice, but you have to pr-actice discrimination. Indeed, you can be discriminatory. And you can discriminate.

That’s where we’re going. You have to make choices. You have to decide what dreams you want for your children. You have to decide what college you want them to go to, what profession they might enter, and the moral choices they make. You decide where they are on Sundays, and what they listen to on the radio. You have to make them TRY HARDER!

You have to stand up and discriminate so your kids, your kids’ teachers, and most of all, YOU know who and what YOU are, and where you want to go from here. And when people get up in arms about Janet Jackson on the Super Bowl, and have not expressed any concern about the lyrics everyday on the radio…that tells you where we are, but not where we can go.

I mean that WHITE boy told her he’d had her naked by the end of the song. Heck Sojourner Truth…no Aretha Franklin…ARETHA would have slapped him naked, and made sure he knew if you want a “Do Right Woman…” you got to be a “Do Right Man.”

I’ve talked to you about racism, how we learn it. I’ve talked to you about prejudice, and how we experience it. I’ve shared about how both of these teach us to discriminate. I’m going to close now.

But I want you to remember that wife at the beginning of this speech. I’m not asking any of you to go overboard in improving your health…but if we don’t do something…we’re going to die. I’m not asking our wives to take the doctor’s advice I mentioned earlier. But I am asking that you take a moment to listen: to listen to each other.

We, You and I have the answers we, as a people, need. And think about what you see when you look in the mirror. That’s what your kids see. Think about that.

The last chapter of tennis legend Arthur Ashe’s book “Days of Grace,” is a letter to his 6-year-old daughter, Camera. Dying of AIDS, and knowing he would not be able to see his daughter grow up he wrote her a letter. In closing, I want to read one portion from that letter, but I want you to promise me before this year is over… you will read the whole letter:

He tells her

“many people in the world are not color blind. I sometimes feel angry and disappointed when, because of stereotypes about the competence of people of color, some worthy man or woman is passed over for a position, just as I am frustrated when an unworthy person cries out about racism the moment he or she is denied a position or a prize. Unlike you, I grew up under the laws of segregation. My classmates and I were reminded every day that we had to resist the worst temptation facing us: despair. If racism was so pervasive, why should we try to do our best at anything? Why study hard? I tell you, Camera, racism and sexism must never be an excuse for not doing your best. Racism and sexism will probably always exist, but you must always try to rise above them.”

That should be our letter, our legacy, to our kids. I don’t care what color you are: black, brown, white, green or yellow, never…never allow racism or sexism to be an excuse for not doing your best. Let’s do our best. Let’s rise above it, and WATCH…so will our kids.



 

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