By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Over the last few months, my travels to historic cities and plantations have been educational, eye-opening and sometimes emotional. The visits, while important ones to make, also come with a price. Each place can no longer be a part of a casual or historical reference, because now they’re personal. Every time they’ll make me wonder about the pure will and determination that it took for my ancestors to survive, just so that I can be, me. 

The lessons that I learned, and continue to learn, have been and continue to be life changing. Depending on where I am, each step will be measured. Every visual is now meaningful. Is this ground that I walk upon steps that they might have taken? Is this magnificent, yet ancient tree one that they too gazed upon?  Is this a whipping post where my DNA might still be?

Yes, my perspectives on a lot of things have changed. How I see the world and my experiences within it are forever going to be different. As they should be. To see and understand what people have gone through, over time, enslaved or otherwise is part of the human experience. No one should walk away unchanged. 

Education is power. The more I can learn about their lives and experiences, makes me realize that just like an African Sankofa, which is symbolized by a bird who is moving forward as it is looking back towards an egg that represents the future. The Sankofa proverb translates to – learning about the past to improve the future – which is exactly why we need to keep learning about our history. Not my history, or your history, but our American history.

For anyone, being on a plantation should invoke the pains of the past. But for me, it also screams about the level of grit and determination that was needed in order to survive. Not just to live another day, but to maintain enough hope in your life and for the lives of your children and their children to carry on and eventually thrive.  

I am the product of all of the incomprehensible dreams of my ancestors. They had an incredible spirit that was strong enough to live through dehumanizing conditions and struggle with humiliation. They mustered enough hope to fight alongside other US Colored Troops Soldiers for freedom. They were determined to ensure that the coming generations were educated, so that they had the skills to be better and do better. They were principled and carried forth traditions and culture and were probably willing to die for me; all so that I could become exactly who and what I am. It’s become like an invisible collar of pride and respect that I wear upon my shoulders that motivates, strengthens and carries me daily. I may not be walking the grounds that they might have everyday, but what little I know about them or just the memories of them will always be with me. 

It’s an honor to be able to tell the stories of the faceless and voiceless who came before me. What they didn’t ever do was give up. They might not be here to speak for themselves, but I can. And will. Every.Single.Day.

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