What is the American Dream for a black family?
For many of us the Obamas’ are our American Dream – a house, marriage, children and a career with a path to retirement. But for most of us getting to that reality is as rare as a black family in the white house. Instead, we face constant trauma. Twice the unemployment; our brother – killed by another brother; our sister – Sandra killed while in police custody and nine of our loved ones – Cynthia, Susie, Ethlel, Depayne, Clementa, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda and Myra –gunned down in a Charleston church. These and more reasons are why men, women and children came from far and wide to the Million Man March.
“Every time we have a movement like this nothing changes,” said a fraternity brother, I met as I headed to the National Park in Washington D.C. His comment struck a nerve. He couldn’t possibly expect forty acres and a mule. Maybe he wanted change to happen in a snap. Maybe he wanted a fair shot at the American Dream. But his comment pointed out the question I often ask myself, “Am I enough?”
I came to the Million Man March looking for inspiration. It was an honor to be in a space where being black, beautiful and brilliant was omnipotent. In the workforce and the classroom, I tend to be the only or the first or the last black guy. But here I was in the middle of a narrative, although not captured by mainstream media, if told by us would serve to enlighten.
Minister Louis Farrakhan was behind a glass wall. This 83-year-old man whose words had motivated a couple hundred thousand or more to gather, had to protect himself. It shocked me. But then again when he spoke out about black oppression – he shocked America.
“Don’t blame Jesus for your cowardice,” Minster Louis Farrakhan said, “have the Jews forgiven Hitler?” His position contrasted the daughter of 70 year-old Ethel Lance who said, “I forgive you,” to the 21-year-old who murdered her mother. I don’t know if I would have had the ability to do that in under 48 hours of the murder. But this kind of forgiveness is what’s needed in the black community. We need to be able to disagree with each other yet work together in a collective advancement in support of black businesses.
“You are all seeds and unless planted in the right environment,” Minster Louis Farrakhan said, “we can’t grow to show – God’s gift bestowed in us at an excellent level.” When I was a student at George Gershwin Junior High School in East New York, surviving the walk to and from school was more important than any test given in class. Classmates were robbed; a friend was hit with a pipe; and another was jumped. Not until I became a student at SUNY Albany did I solely focus on academics. However, there was still much I didn’t learn at school.
“The first slave ship that came into the New World was called Jesus,” Minister Louis Farrakhan said. Jesus of Lubeck was a 700-ton ship purchased by King Henry VIII that was leant to the ships captain, Sir John Hawkins by Queen Elizabeth. The ship left England for Africa in October 1562. It arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone, captured and enslaved 300 – 500 Africans. The ship transported and sold most of them to what is now the Dominican Republic. This is an example of black history that often leads me to ask, “What else don’t I know?”
“Your name is a reminder you were once owned as a slave,” Minster Louis Farrakhan said, “changing our names was a first step to a complete and full freedom.” Although, this may help assert a black identity, since many of us know little about our genealogy. I believe in uncovering 7generations of my family’s story is important to reclaiming myself. Maybe the discovery is what will lead to a larger change among my family not just myself.
“Lincoln didn’t aspire to free slaves,” Minster Louis Farrakhan said. I am well aware that Lincoln’s aspiration was to do as little or as much in regards to slavery that would keep the union whole. However, I did not know from reading the Lincoln Memorial his position was in plain view for all to see. This helps me understand that unless the victim of an injustice defends him or herself, no one else will do enough.
The Million Man March was an experience I won’t forget. I wonder if my experience was similar to those who heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his I Have A Dream speech. I felt hopeful. It was a breath of fresh air that made me believe going forward – we will breathe.
I left the march challenged to do more. Maybe that is standing up to an injustice when I encounter it. Maybe that is being comfortable with being uncomfortable – envisioning an American Dream for black families that extends as far as collective action will take us.
Framed In Excellence is a blog series that show how African Americans pursue the American Dream despite being woven into dangerous, unsafe and vulnerable spaces within our nation
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) is a MFA in Creative Writing and Literature candidate at SUNY Stony Brook, where he is working on Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been featured in The South Hampton Review. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com