By Imani Williams
I commit myself to a 365-day-a-year acknowledgement of black history and the importance it plays in my life. When I think about Morgan Freeman’s recent announcement on “60 Minutes” that Black History Month no longer needs to be celebrated, I have to shake my head. I know every breathing being has a right to his or her opinion, but I question the ancestral reflection of Mr. Freeman’s statement to Mike Wallace.
I know that every opportunity that I have today comes from the sacrifices of my ancestors. Countless people struggled, saved, and did what they had to do, making it possible for me to be me and giving me the opportunity to reach for whatever I may want to accomplish.
My parents worked hard so that my sister and I could attend college and pursue our dreams. In 1964, my parents became homeowners in Northwest Detroit. They were the first African-Americans to buy a home on Pinehurst and W. Seven Mile. I was the first child of color born on that block. Before this time property owners chose it was legal for them to not sell or rent to African-Americans. The east side/west side debate in Detroit continues even today. It is important that today’s youth understand that it was legal to sanction people of color to the east side of Woodward Ave. Not having the right to choose where to live as a human being and tax-paying citizen is immoral and hurting to one’s spirit.
As we ponder the isms of life, it appears that the ancestors seem to be gathering for an ongoing call home for their soldiers. During 2005, the drumbeat was continuous and steadfast month after month. We lost the likes of Richard Pryor, Shirley Horn, Mother Rosa Parks, Nipsey Russell, John H. Johnson, Luther Vandross, Johnnie Cochran Jr., Ossie Davis, Shirley Chisholm, August Wilson, and Ronald Winans.
Included in that list is my beloved father Calvin X. Williams Jr. We lost so many good people in ’05 that it seemed that 2006 would give us a reprieve if only to allow those of us left on earth to catch our breath. Nevertheless, the beat continued calling: Lou Rawls, Fayard Nicholas, and Wilson Pickett. A week before Mother Coretta Scott King’s homegoing, I attended the service of Mrs. Barbara Bracken-Foster, a family friend and activist in her own right.
While I was watching the homegoing of Mrs. King on television, I paused to check my email. Upon logging on I found an email stating that Mr. Charles Kelly had made his transition following a long battle with cancer. Mr. Kelly, along with his wife Teresa and daughter Catherine, own and publish the Michigan Citizen.
The Citizen is a forerunner in keeping Detroit’s African-American community abreast of the news that affects everyday people. It is a grassroots effort that stands tall for human equality and fair treatment of all citizens. This much-needed black paper is a source of timely and honest information. We need the black press today as much as we needed it during reconstruction. Those individuals brave enough to operate a press that got much needed real information to the black citizens in the U.S. ran the risk of being victimized and often killed by hate groups like the Klan.
I have had the honor of being a freelance writer with the Citizen and BTL for the past three years. My goal has been to bring information about the LGBT community to both papers.
The Kellys know first hand the homophobia that exists and persists in the City of Detroit. Yet still, they make it their business to ensure that their readership has knowledge of the black LGBT community. One example of the Citizen making sure the voice of all citizens is heard took place when The Citizen and BTL co-sponsored the Historic Detroit Town Hall meetings on Homophobia in 2004. I appreciate these papers – one black and one white lesbian owned – coming together in the name of human equality.
In my personal life, I chose to wear orange to my dad’s homegoing in honor and celebration of his life in June of 2005. Losing my dad the day after my 41st birthday marked a change in me. Spirit lets me know that my birthdays from here forward will be marked as bittersweet. I will always miss and love my daddy. However, I have been blessed during the eight months since his transition. I have felt his presence in my dreams and as I watched the sun set in the sky. I have felt his voice whispering in my ear to continue to stand strong for what I believe in, to tell the truth and to make him proud.
When I close my eyes while he is speaking to me, I can hear the affirming voices of not only my dad, but of the ancestors who have also gone on. I’m reminded that there remains plenty of work to be done in the name of human rights and equality and that as I do my part, I am charged with making sure that those who have left before me are remembered and honored, not only in February, but every day.