A Journey of Reconciliation: “Sankofa”

 I am on a journey. A journey filled with struggles. A journey filled with pain. But, ultimately one that is filled with hope. I am on a journey to better understand who I am, where I have come from and how that fits into the role I play in society. This journey of reconciliation is one that I have only recently embarked on.
Tomorrow I will be immersing myself even more in a history of struggle, pain and hope as I set off on a trip through the civil rights sites in the Deep South. The name of this trip I will be going on is called “Sankofa”. As taken from the website:
“Sankofa” is a word from the Adinkra language of the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa. It is expressed in the Akan language as se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki, which literally translates “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.” Sankofa indicates that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. This concept—like Christ’s redemption—teaches that whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can yet be reclaimed, revived, and preserved for the future.
We will be traveling with a group of 25 other Bethel students and faculty through the civil rights sites. Some of the sites we will visit/people we will meet include: the 16th Street Baptist church, Birmingham, Alabama– where a bomb was thrown by members of the Ku Klux Klan and 4 little girls were killed; the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama; a meeting with Rosa Parks pastor; a visit to the historic neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up; and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
I chose to share a poem I recently wrote because I believe it is very relevant to my journey on “Sankofa”. I wrote this poem after struggling to understand the ways in which I have been socialized to see African-Americans and African-American culture as dangerous, ugly and even sub-human. My hope in writing this poem is that you may see how the history of yesterday directly affects today. I hope and pray that you may see that there is no “us” and “them” in history; whatever happens to one person or people group directly affects those around them. It is only by coming to this realization that we can stand up against oppression and injustice. In John 17:20 when Christ prays to God in the garden of Gethsemane before he is crucified he prays: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
May we learn how to be “one” in solidarity with all who have suffered greatly on this Earth.
“Break the Silence”
An ugly history of oppression and violence
Done in the name of economics
Has created such silence
That when I look at you
And you look at me
We cannot see who we were made to be
Only through distorted reflections of the past
 A past that claimed you were only “3/5th” of a person and that I was victor
 A past that claimed you were made to serve me
The dogs were even treated better than your family; in the master’s eyes you weren’t worthy
A past that declared you were a rebel and a threat for wanting to be treated as an equal
How could we not see past the hatred that we are all one people?
 A past that denied rights to your family to vote under “Jim Crow”
Was abolished through the struggles of many people and “One Dream”
We thought we had overcome, at least that’s the way it seemed
You see, not much has changed although we wish it were not true
I cannot clearly see me, because I cannot clearly see you
If I knew of the oppression, hatred and violence you and your family had endured would I be truly changed or only brush the truth off as if you were absurd?
So, today when I walk by you on the street at first glance, I only see what I have been told to see
A felon, a convict, a thug
But when I pick up the shards of the broken history I can fit the pieces together, there is no more mystery
You see, the stories of yesterday remain the stories of today The chains that were bound to the feet of your great-grandfather Remain tied to your feet today
Today, I am the well-educated, elite And you are still supposed to wipe the grime off of my feet
Today, I can travel through from L.A. to D.C. and not suffer discrimination
while you still wonder, to whom is this a ‘free nation’?
Today, I can drive past you in my car with everything I need
While you are still left with barely enough left for your children to feed
Today, I can walk without fear of the authorities,
While you are left imprisoned disproportionately
I may never fully understand the extent to which my privilege lies
But I know when I look at you I no longer see a criminal’s eyes
 I see pain, I see oppression, I violence
But only together in solidarity,
 In faith, hope, peace and love
Can we defy it and break the silence.

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