By Jonathan Peck, President & Sr. Futurist
When we understand resilience to mean the ability to spring forward when challenged, perhaps the best cultural example we can find is the historic experience of African Americans. Imagine being kidnapped, thrown into the hold of a ship packed with people you do not know, underfed and chained in misery for weeks on end. Then you are pulled into the glare of a new land, stripped of your human rights and sold as property. How could such a history lead to a joyous celebration that makes African Americans a source of hope and a story of resilience in a society that to this day metes out injustice based on skin pigmentation?
Perhaps the best answer to this question can be seen and shared by a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This museum takes us on a remarkable journey back in time down to the lower floors of our history when slavery represented the shadows of our inhumanity to fellow beings. As you move upward from shackles, savagery and slavery, the historic signs of resilience are there to see. It’s there in the slave revolts on ships. It’s there in the underground railroad. It’s there in the religion that African Americans have made their own and in the glorious “singing themselves into existence” like no other people, ever.
Walking up from the lowest floors of our history, the museum invites a stop in The Contemplation Court where reflection on the history of injustice and resilience of a people bound for freedom prepares us for the celebration of culture to come. We have passed by the fiery calls for justice and freedom from black leaders: Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and President Barack Obama. They point us to the heights of accomplishment celebrated already on the upper floors of the museum where African American artists, scientists, athletes and cultural icons symbolize the resilience of a culture. They also point to a new prominence within the overall American culture that invites us to see hope in the resilience of African American culture.
This hope does not ignore racism, violence and hatred. There’s no overlooking the police shootings, mass incarceration, evictions and injustices. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “I’m not talking about some kind of superficial optimism which is little more than magic. I’m talking about that kind of hope that has an ‘in spite of’ quality”. He said, “Hope is the final refusal to give up.”
This hope offers others who face discrimination and injustice a promise that there is a better future in which all are created equal and endowed with unalienable human rights that cannot be long denied. This hope is there for Black Lives Matter, for friends and families of Parkland High School shooting victims, for those struggling for LGBTQ, for Dreamers, new immigrants and for those facing opioid addiction. If the long suffering of slavery, segregation and discrimination could not deny African Americans the hope on display in the museum, then other minorities can share the faith that they too shall overcome injustice. They too can show the resilience that lets them bounce forward.