I Am Not My Ancestors, But I Hope to Be

By Madalyn McKnight

When I hear the phrase “I am not my ancestors” it honestly makes my blood boil. The notion that our ancestors were weak and feeble is so far on the opposite side of history that it’s almost comical. It’s really sad that we downplay the role of every type of activist that existed before us. Being Black in America is being aware of mortality. Aware that a traffic stop could be deadly, mistaken identity could be fatal, and even if I am in distress, I could be deemed the aggressor. Imagine experiencing all of this during the Jim Crow laws, before social media and being able to capture video evidence. During a time where your leaders could outwardly and boldly call you the n-word and exclaim their disdain for integration. Yea, our ancestors were much stronger than we’ve ever had to be. They truly felt their own mortality.

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With the passing of Congresswoman Lewis and Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, both pioneers who became elders, I find comfort in knowing that they are now ancestors. I would not dare cite that phrase that demeans the brutality they endured for the equality of black Americans. They march together and were even arrested together. Both men seemed so much bigger than life that their passing seems almost unreal. I am aware of my own mortality, but not theirs. Their passing reminds me that they died before we could all reach the promised land, but they did experience victories along the way. I am glad that both of these men not only witnessed the first black president but were also given the presidential medal of freedom by President Barack Obama.

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We have come a long way and both would agree that we have far to go.  Both Rep. Lewis and Rev. Vivian along with countless others were integral in the creation of an activism blueprint that we still reference today. The Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama should be renamed to the John Lewis bridge. There should a monument for both men erected in Atlanta as well. These are the figures that worked to redeem the sins of this country. They had a simple request. Equality in action and equality on paper as law. They gave their entire life’s work to causes bigger than themselves and are well-deserving of rest in a land with no suffering, and to be reunited with their comrades that proceeded them.

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So no, we are not our ancestors. The cloth they were cut from is rugged yet refined. It is beautiful and tough. It is one of a kind, and many of the things we took for granted, they shed blood for. These two men were arrested dozens of times, march thousands of times, and fought for a light and the end of a tunnel they were not allowed to breathe in.

Let’s honor them, call on them, and be like them and make #goodtrouble.

*featured image Getty/The Atlantic


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Madalyn McKnight is a Contributing Writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. A rare blackbird who has the range and a young black professional with impactful words! Follow her on Instagram and Facebook at @singsongblackbird and twitter @singsongblckbrd

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