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Bringing the Gifts That My Ancestors Gave

Black History Month was always my favorite month growing up. I’d pull my mom’s afro wig on top of my cornrows, with beads sloppily tucked into the sides of it, as I walked around my elementary school telling everyone that I was Angela Davis. “Power to the people,” I’d say with my little fist raised.

Halloween was cool, and the winter holidays were alright, but Black History Month? Oh, that was my time. February was when my young creative juices really flowed. I’d draw, and paint, and make paper mache sculptures of my faves likes Phillis Wheatley. I’d learn more Maya Angelou prose and freshen up on Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech for the next oratory contest.

And then, I’d head into my self-made lab and work on my inventions so I could be the next Madame C.J. Walker, Garrett Morgan, or George Washington Carver. I knew that the next innovation in beauty, the next traffic light, or the next movement in agriculture could be just one idea away.

I’d brag on my grandparents — entrepreneurs who’d owned a tavern way back when — and then I’d flash my Black girl smile, and sashay my Black girl sway, and tell everyone who’d listen that I’d gotten my smarts from my teacher mom and my engineer dad.

In Kente cloth from head to toe, I’d play with my Kenya doll and talk about how our people are really from Africa. Then, I’d grab my Addy American Girl doll and read her accompanying books all day while celebrating how brave she was to escape from slavery and help her family.

I was so happy to be Black, so pumped to say those stories aloud, so ecstatic to share that history because even then I knew: Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

Still I Rise

By Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
 With your bitter, twisted lies,
 You may trod me in the very dirt
 But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
 Why are you beset with gloom?
 ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
 Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
 With the certainty of tides,
 Just like hopes springing high,
 Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
 Bowed head and lowered eyes?
 Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
 Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
 Don’t you take it awful hard
 ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
 Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
 You may cut me with your eyes,
 You may kill me with your hatefulness,
 But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
 Does it come as a surprise
 That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
 At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
 I rise
 Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
 I rise
 I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
 Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
 I rise
 Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
 I rise
 Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
 I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
 I rise
 I rise
 I rise.

 

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