Originally posted Feb. 9, 2019 on Zoot580.blogspot.com
Welcome back for Episode 2 of my “Africa to America” series. In the first installment, I directed you to the moment AFTER the classic scene in Alex Haley’s “Roots” where Kizzy was taken from her family and sold to another plantation. I shared that the little known understanding was how the loss of his daughter was the breaking point for Kunta Kinte. Kunta was a proud Mandinka warrior, abducted from Africa and cast into a life of servitude. Until this tragic event, Kunta had always stood strong in the face of adversity, never abandoning his training and beliefs. Sadly, the loss of Kizzy and the staggering message from his wife that his beliefs had failed him were more than he could bear. If you missed my first post, I strongly suggest you read Part 1 first at this link.
I hope you had an opportunity to sit back and digest my thoughts on the symbolism behind it. This was a moment that may have been lost on many who were reeling from Kizzy’s departure.
As a result of its success, both a sequel and a holiday special were created: “Roots: The Next Generations” (taking place where Chicken George and family left off) and “Roots: The Gift” (a flashback Christmas tale featuring young Kunta and his caretaker, Fiddler).
That’s the best I can summarize such a powerful tale of love of family and pride in lineage (for more of the “Roots” story, read beyond this post’s ending). If you haven’t seen the remake, released in 2016, please put that on your binge list. They did a remarkable job of recreating the magic while incorporating enough subtle changes to keep you surprised. Later this month, I’ll tell you why the remake is just as relevant as the original (so be sure to sign up and follow my blog for notifications of future posts).
Ok, let’s get this party started.
As I think back on the “pride of self” in each generation in the movie, I can’t help but admire the strength and resolve of the human spirit. I look closely at this tale of one family’s dreams of freedom and certain thoughts consume me over, and over, and over again: You need to wholeheartedly embrace your place of origin. You come from a people of unswerving love of and for their land. Of their culture. Of their traditions. Of their beliefs. Of THEMSELVES.
I find it fascinating that many African Americans run out to purchase green outfits with shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, some with “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” shirts. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy every holiday and honor them for what they are, just as I appreciate every race for who they are. I was taught to see character, not color, as my children have been raised. I take no issue with our enjoyment of every established day of remembrance and celebration. My sadness and frustration stems from how some, correction, MANY African Americans tend to squander our own opportunities.
“We have no black holidays!!!”
I hear that all the time. Some will offer that we have “MLK Day”. I’m sorry, but that’s not a black holiday. At least not in my opinion. I remember a supervisor once telling me that I could take “King Day” off, if I so desired. I asked if that offer applied to everyone else at the plant, to which he answered it didn’t. I told him that the holiday is not for me, exclusively, and if others can’t take the day off, then I shouldn’t be allowed to either. I did take the day off though. Shhhhh. “King Day” (as some put it) is the day that we honor the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his strength, guidance and teachings as a profound leader of the Civil Rights Movement. A man who fought for racial equality and peace. A man who died, believing in loving his neighbor, despite their hatred and actions against not just people of color, but any race or religion. He died, hoping that one day his children could play with any child on the color spectrum, go anywhere and feel safe, and grow up to become whatever their hearts desired. To me, it is an observance of peace and love. No, I’m not going to directly quote any part of his speeches because these are my words about the man I admire incredibly.
But since I’m on the subject of that holiday, let me ask: “What DO you do on that day?” I would like to know what you did last month other than “take the day off”.
Ok, so you know where I’m going with all of this, but please don’t think I’m condemning you. I’m just illustrating how we categorize that day and how it’s often spent.
Now, if you’re wondering when I’m going to bring up Black History Month, here we go…
February is “Black History Month”. You have a full 28 days (29, every leap year) to commemorate the accomplishments of our storied past. You can turn on cable television and streaming services and find a plethora of documentaries, blaxploitation projects, comedies, dramas etc, featuring and about Africans and African Americans. Musical specials, interviews, you name it, it’s all there. And have you checked your local libraries, schools and arts complexes? The information is readily available.
Here, the Columbus (Ohio) library system is hosting a number of celebrations and educational events. Have you researched yours and made any plans to attend or participate in your respective locations? This is not a “holier than thou” blog, but I’m proud that my family attends the events during the holiday and fully participates throughout the month. Even our movie selections are of themes to which we can relate. Many of them about historical figures. This month includes: “42” (about Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play professional baseball), “Selma” (the march from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama and the campaign to secure equal voting rights), “The Hate U Give” (a fictional tale of a young girl’s struggle, living in a black community, attending a predominately white school, and dealing with the officer-involved shooting of her friend), etc. Some movies we’ve seen, some we’re watching again. I’d list the library and community events I expect to attend, but that would be a blog in itself. Find YOURS.
And what about our historic movements? What did we do besides wear a t-shirt, hat and necklace during the “Fight The Power” era and watch “A Different World” in the late 80s and early 90s? Did we take the time to learn and grow? During the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther (not the movie!) era, did we take the time to learn and grow? During and after the Million Man March in 1995, did we take the time to learn and grow? Because of the sacrifices of your parents and/or grandparents, you can now sit at the front of the bus. Where do you ride NOW and more important, how? Do you sit anywhere and respect others, offering your seat for the ladies (talking to the men), the physically challenged &/or elderly? Do you engage in pleasant conversations with your fellow passengers? Or are you in the back, blasting your radio (thank God for earbuds) disturbing/insulting others, fighting and causing other types of problems? Please note, I’m not stereotyping – just making a point.
There are many, many wonderful ways to honor this month. If you haven’t realized it, you’re already participating by reading. Remember the reason for, and timing of this blog series? GOTCHA!
“They gave us Black History Month during the shortest month of the YEAR!”
Ok, that’s another complaint that pisses me off. If any of my boys ever complained about the size of their slice of cake, they’d watch it get taken away with a quickness! Mess around and find this month taken away if y’all don’t hush! I’m not saying be happy with what you’ve got. I’m saying be proud that if any minority group has a month that is recognized nationally, it’s yours.
So here’s my message…
Dear friends (and I’m speaking to ALL readers, despite your ethnicity), take pride in your race. Take pride in the accomplishments of your people. Celebrate and honor your fathers and their fathers. Learn more about your faith and practices.
Bring them to the melting pot, pour them in and stir. Stir! STIR!!
And after you do, take a drink from this pot, savoring the flavor, respecting all of the contributions of all nations. Appreciating each other’s differences and how we weave them into the fabric of the growth of our nation are the real way you “Make America Great Again”. Learn to love one-another and respect who they are. Be pro-black, without being anti-white (and vice-versa). Supremacy does NOT exist, where the children of God are concerned. Don’t allow anyone to disrespect you or what you believe in.
And please. Dear God, PLEASE. Don’t ever deny, reject or insult your own kind.
Who am I?
I am an African American.
I am an American of African origin.
I am a man, a black man.
I am a human being, created in the image of my God.
I am an inventor, artist, politician, teacher, public speaker, musician, comedian, athlete, judge, contractor, lawyer, actor, policeman, preacher, doctor, engineer.
I am intelligent and intelligible.
I am Nigerian. I am Cameroonian. I am Ghanaian.
I am Africa, in all of her glory!! I am NOT ashamed, nor am I afraid.
To anyone who would tell me to “go back to Africa”, please remember that your fathers (who came here illegally, mind you) brought me here and used me to helped build this country. I didn’t ask to come, yet I’ve made it my own. It would not be what it is if I hadn’t invented the traffic signal and gas mask (both invented by Garrett Morgan), the clock from a watch (Benjamin Banneker), the foundation of the blood bank (Charles Drew), the gas-heating furnace (Alice H. Parker), the lawn mower (John Albert Burr), the pacemaker (Otis Boykin). You sing and dance to much of the music I compose and record. Hell, you wouldn’t even be chasing your kids through the lawn sprinkler (Joseph A. Smith) with your super-soaker water gun (Lonnie G. Johnson), if not for me.
I am no better than you, nor you, me. We built this land together.
But if you still want me to go back, I expect you to buy the ticket because as I just mentioned, I didn’t get in any line to come here. And when I DO get there, I will find joy because I have a great deal of traveling to do in my home continent and many cousins to meet and thank.
I am Kunta Kinte. I am Kenneth Arlington Davis. Son of Kenneth and Lenora (Cochran) Davis. Born a warrior. Captured and thrust into slavery. But now I am free.
…Hear me children. Listen to my Pride Of Self. Listen to my song…
(To be continued in Part 3 – and feel free to read the epilogue below for the rest of the “Roots” story.)
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If you’d like to know what happened to the immediate descendants of Kunta Kinte, read on. Otherwise, I’ll see you next week for Part 3 of “Africa To America”!
So what of the legacy that is “Kunta Kinte”?
Spoiler alert, if you haven’t figured that out by now. Please note that this is from the original television series. The story varies slightly in both the book and the remake.
Kizzy gave birth to “Chicken George” who became a highly respected pitter for cock-fighting, winning a great deal of money for his master. George eventually lost a match, in which his master placed a wager that he could not pay. As a consequence, George was “loaned out” as payment and taken to England for 14 years to pit cockerels for his new “master”. He returned to America and was granted his freedom from a previous promise made by Master Moore. He reunited with his family (wife Tilda, son Tom and other children and grandchildren) who all had been sold to another plantation.
During his absence, his family endured their own hardships in the years of the civil war and the eventual emancipation of slavery. These troubles included the passing of Kizzy, the attempted rape of Tom’s wife, the whipping of Tom by a group of masked horsemen (who are portrayed as an early version of the Ku Klux Klan) and obligatory service (although free) to work off their debts, needing a place to live. George again left his family to prevent being forced back into slavery by virtue of a new law passed, revoking a former slave’s freedom if he remains in a slave state more than 60 days. He eventually returned years later to help his family outwit their new debtors and the mob, then ushered everyone to their new home in Tennessee. Land that he bought.
In the final scenes, before entering their new home, the caravan stops and takes in the scenery as George tells the story of Kunta Kinte, his life, journey and his teachings. His son Tom interrupts, sharing the African words that Kunta taught Kizzy. George continues, speaking loud and proudly to the spirit of his grandfather Kunta, proclaiming that “we” are finally free. The story closes with an overview of subsequent generations, all the way down to the story’s author, Alex Haley, who can be heard narrating it.