“If you don’t have access to the information, you don’t know what your potential is.”
Produced by Reagan Skaggs.
Transcript for A Well-Kept Secret
I remember going to Pulaski. Pulaski was a middle school back then. Seventh grade, we had a speech teacher. She introduced us to black poets—black poetry—and all of us kids was shocked, like, “What? Black folks wrote poems?” We had never heard of it. I was elated, and I went home, and I told my mother. I said, “Momma, black folks wrote poems. Look at this! They wrote these poems!” Langston Hughes, to name just one, but there were so many! She didn’t know it either, of course, and she bought the very first book of poetry we owned, and that book was a compilation of poems by African Americans, and then you had your Caribbean folk, and it also included Europeans. And that is a thick volume. It’s not in print anymore. I still have it to this day.
My mom was just so thrilled, she bought this expensive book—a book for twenty or thirty bucks was a lot for her. I’m always telling you how she worked. She worked, she always worked, but you know, she’s a woman, she’s not going to make what the men make, and she’s gonna make less than all of the other women, but she’s got the same responsibilities, maybe more, because she’s single, and it’s still in an era where women tended to be married and stayed in a marriage, irregardless. And so, that was a great sacrifice for her to buy that book, but she bought that book, and boy, did I get into those poems. I loved them. I was so grateful to know that.
Throughout my life, looking at TV, movies, magazines, there was never, ever anything pleasant said about the continent of Africa, nor the brown, black people in it. It was always bad. It was always sad. It was not stuff that would make you feel proud and honored to be a part of that heritage. They never, ever spoke about Ancient Egyptians being chocolate people. That was a well-kept secret. I didn’t learn that until I was a grown woman. Actually, a very mature grown woman. When I went to Egypt, I saw the pictures on the walls, and the people were black, and dark, and brown, and I was in awe. This is really true. They were a black race, so why is it hidden? Why is it kept secret? Why is it never mentioned? All I ever heard was negative things, so, to learn that during the Harlem Renaissance we had these phenomenal poets step out, and writers, and I mean, you just didn’t hear about it in any form or fashion.
You know, we’ve been so disconnected to those truths because we didn’t control things that would allow us access to that information. And it all has to do with this thing that’s called institutional racism. The group, the group that’s in charge, in control, controls information as well. So, if you don’t have access to that information, you don’t know what your potential is. And the potential is always for greatness.
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