Some years, during Black History Month, I am laden with the heavy feeling that it is much too dangerous to look away from today, to look back. I hear: Take a peek, maybe, but please - Black Man, Black Woman, Black Person, Black Child - do not stay here for long.
I cannot stay here because the work of the ancestors is not done, and we must keep watch.
We must keep watch because Black bodies are still unsafe. The patchwork of names has souls attached, you know. The ancestors tell me that their young people are coming to join them too soon. The new slavery that they call by a different name has yet to be abolished. The violence perpetrated against all who possess Blackness is still state-sanctioned.
We are not yet free.
We must keep watch because Black Women are dying from the task of maintaining their existence, these days. This isn’t a surprise, right? We, collectively, cannot breathe. ARE NOT BREATHING. Or resting. Or thriving. No matter what you think you see. We are natural-born superpowers who have succumbed to the singular societal requirement of us to don capes with weights that sink us to the bottoms of oceans - emotional and otherwise. Our tears only serve to add more salt to the water - no one is coming to our rescue.
And this is by design.
There is a lot to learn back there child, but learn quickly, because we must keep watch over Black Trans people everywhere, because their audacity to want to live and to do so in their fullness, is viewed as a threat. Imagine an erasure of humanity so universally desired that your disappearance or your murder isn’t even relegated to the back page, but…to no page.
Tell me - if no one bothers to bear witness, did you ever make a sound?
I so desperately want to spend hours and weeks relishing in the mind-bending feats and sacrifices of my ancestors, but I can never tarry long because they need my attention HERE.
They need me to carry forward their message of love. Oh, how they loved us. How they dreamed of us. Cried for us. Died for us. Prayed for us. Manifested US.
They need me to keep adding chapters to the great storybook of Black ingenuity. Correcting the footnotes and bibliographies. Dusting off the unpublished, and illuminating the stolen. And keeping this grand book in front of the eyes of all of our beautiful Black children so that they are ever-aware that there is not a thing in existence that their bloodline didn’t have a hand - or all of the hands - in creating. We are them and they are us.
And keep the babies’ eyes - including the third - open.
They still need me to right 100-year-old wrongs, never allowing anyone to forget the horrors of rescinded testimonies and posthumous pardons that are far, far too little and eternally too late; to remind, and to remind again, what conditions Reparations for Black folks are needed to repair, as if there are no prior examples; to strike down empty curiosities and convenient platitudes and demand the fulfillment of the requirements of a new Pro-Black revolution that is so very, very old.
The ancestors sing to me - sweetly, and then with a pitch of horror that is quite necessary (for without it, I might not leave) - that my time is better spent elsewhere. They tell me to spend my time on this earth demonstrating my deference by activating their teachings to affect the Black history that is being created today. In any way - and every way - that I possibly can. To take every crumb of privilege that I can manage to scrape into my hand, and magnify it tenfold.
It is the only debt that I owe.
Black history is electric and I relish in its annals, but it is never lost upon me that only the action of focusing on the condition of Black folks today, pays appropriate homage to their yesterdays.
I’ve learned this lesson, and I heed this call, and I pray that every last one of our glorious, sepia angels be legacy-honored, pleased in the doings of their posterity – indeed, also a dutiful tribe of truth and justice-seekers – and well, in their hard-earned rest.
Crystal R. Braboy is Chief People, Equity, and Culture Officer at Planned Parenthood of Illinois.