Douglas and I were headed to the grocery store, when I spotted a sight that seemed so incongruous to me: cotton fields. On both sides of the road were fields of white that looked as though it had snowed. It was a beautiful sight, one that really touched my soul, not because of the whiteness of the cotton, but due to a heightened sense of progress.
Let me see if I can explain this better. I grew up hearing about my ancestors struggling in the cotton fields of the South. I heard of the back-breaking work that pulling cotton entailed, and of how people worked from sunup to sundown, with no improvement on their economic conditions. It didn’t take an economist to know that the nation could not progress unless everyone had equal chances for success.
Cotton fields have always symbolized the worst kind of hate. Promising young people of color who felt the temptation to seek something greater in their lives found that they had no other outlets for moving upwards. Yet, I sit here today having earned a PhD and lived my dream of teaching in colleges and universities across the country.
I was teaching a Sunday school class once, and I related to the students that I grew up in two-room and three-room apartments. One of the teenagers raised her hand, and when I called on her she said, “Ms. Regina, you mean a three -bedroom house.”
I realized then that many young black children had never experienced a lot of the social deprivation of earlier generations. Therefore, many could not fully comprehend why the older folks were so thankful in church, praising God for His goodness, mercy, and grace.
As I looked at the cotton patch near my home, I realized that the responsibility for teaching history and the stories of families is on my generation. Lacking a sense of the endurance and perseverance of past generations leads to a sense of hopelessness that paralyzes dreamers.
But, also they need to be reminded that change happens. But, you can’t sit down and wait for change, you have to stand up against tyranny and discrimination, demanding your rights and the rights of others who are oppressed in other ways.
Joel 1:3 states, “Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation.” This means ensuring that children learn their history, so that they can appreciate progress and seek never to go backwards.
Yes, we have come far, much farther than I thought possible as a young girl. I never believed that I would see a black man as the President of the United States, but I did. But, as I recently listened to the rant of a white woman about hating blacks and watched a video of a white security guard calling the police on a black male guest using his phone in the lobby of a hotel, I realized that things are getting bad again.
Seeing cotton growing in the middle of a city block that machines will harvest, not people, reminded me that the basic ideals of our founding papers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, call for a just world. They state unequivocally that every person has a right to dignity and equality under the law.
Just as the days of being forced to work in cotton fields are past, I hope that as a nation, we will continue teaching all of our history, living up to those founding ideals, and ensuring that the rights of every person are never impinged upon. Truly, let America be for all people the land of the free and the home of the brave.