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Our Ancestors, Ourselves

By Afia Amponsah*/Dr. Gloria Latimore-Peace Presented by Omni Virtual University



3 John 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (KJV)


As Host and Producer of the H3O Art of Life Television Show, it has been my privilege to have interviewed a number of our foremost thinkers and, in the process, to have been introduced to their brainchildren. During one such program, my guest, Dr. Harold Pates, former President of Kenney-King Junior College, almost caused me to levitate from my chair when he said, "We have been "de-ancestoralized!" [1] To say that this pronouncement resonated with my spirit does not adequately express my response in that moment when it almost seemed that Dr. Pates had channeled our revered Ancestor, Dr. Margaret Taylor Goss Burroughs.


That episode, entitled "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black...? Revisited" also featured Dr. Ghingo Brooks, former President of Malcolm X Junior College. It was introduced with a reading from one of our Queen Mother's most celebrated poems: "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black…?" :


"I will lift up their heads in proud blackness

With the story of their fathers and their fathers' fathers."

And I shall take them into a Way-back Time

Of kings and queens who ruled the Nile and raised the Pyramids

Who measured the stars and discovered the laws of mathematics,

And who developed music, medicine, and the law…"[2]


The import of this poem, which was written by Dr. Burroughs in 1963, provided a solution to a problem that has been plaguing us for centuries but had not been fully comprehended until... one of her "children" got the message and helped us to decipher more of "what it means to be a captive…". [3]


Most of us have heard or read accounts of the manner in which our forebears were taken captive. As a matter of fact, Narrator Gloria Estefan, in a recent episode of "Great Performances'', observed that: "... for more than 300 years, millions of Africans were captured, loaded onto floating prisons, and shipped to European colonies in the Americas." [4] But, with the exception of our own intellectual warriors [5], few have brought to light the means by which we were dispossessed of our Ancestral land, disconnected from our language, culture, and kinship group(s) and, thereby, brought under the knee of European oppression".


Dr. Pates had "zeroed in" on one of the main processes that has been continuously used to maintain the subjugation of African- descended people. In so doing, he has advanced the narrative to "a whole other level". Speaking of the prevailing process of socialization in America, he contends that the educational process "de-ancestoralizes our children"; "I don't see ancestors in the Founding Fathers". Swear me in as a witness to that fact.

"What shall I tell my dear ones who are raised in a white world

A place where white has been made to represent

All that is good and pure and fine and decent…"[6]


Were it not for conscious educators like Dr. Burroughs, Dr. Pates, and Dr. Brooks, et al, Black children would go from "Head Start"[7] through college without "seeing our Ancestors". This assertion is underscored by our Ancestor Toni Morrison, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction(1988) and The Nobel Prize in Literature ( 1993). Dr. Morrison opens up her novel, " The Bluest Eye ", with a direct quote from "Fun with Dick and Jane"[8]:


"Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy…"

"Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisveryprettyhereisthefamilymotherfatherdickandjaneliveinthegreenandwhitehousetheyareveryhappy…"


This primary "reading" series, with its verbal and pictorial images, undergirds the process of de-ancestralization by dismantling the Black child's world as it establishes the nuclear,i.e. White, family model as the family ideal.


The practice of setting white standards for every aspect of life is repeated throughout academia- in every subject and discipline- from Social Studies to Humanities- for the entirety of the Black child's schooling. And, with the exception of Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday and "Juneteenth", all of the other (weekday) National Holidays are White. To add insult to injury, regardless of the racial composition of the student body, the overwhelming majority of the academic institutions which our children are allowed to attend are named-not for their Black Ancestors- but for the Ancestors of Whites as are the streets that lead to them.


It is ironic that, because many African people pay homage and build shrines to commemorate their Ancestors' in their homes and other sacred spaces, we were once accused of being "Ancestor worshippers". Whereas now, according to Dr. Koko Zauditu Selassie, the reverse has come to pass: "Your problem is you worship they ancestors [eg. Washington and Lincoln] and give them power. Egun allow us the opportunity to say we didn't forget because forgetting [Ancestors] is the real death... Although they have left the body, they haven't left the minds and hearts of the people. [Their] footsteps continue to walk the earth to guard us and guide us and keep us and empower us. They are you on the other side and you are them on this side." [9]


As Dr. Marta Mareno Vega asserts: "We have to say the names of the Ancestors, the people who have brought us to this point. We came here as enslaved Africans. The fact that we exist is a miracle. It's a miracle because we decided to intentionally re-create our lives. We didn't come with family. We re-created family. We insisted on family..." [10].


We must never cease to insist on family. We must re-ancestralize our families. We must insist on the all- inclusive African Family model, i.e., The Living, The Dead, and The Yet-unborn.


Dr. Vega continued: "It is our responsibility to see to it that our Ancestors are not invisible people … We built this country. So, how do you not say our people's names?" [11] Not only must we call our Ancestors' names and memorialize them in monuments such as Chicago's Paul Laurence Dunbar statue, by Artist Debra Hand, and the Ida B Wells monument, by Sculptor Richard Hunt but, our Forebears should also be remembered by the names we give to ourselves and our children. In addition, it is imperative that we commune with the Ancestors, to hear and read their words, to see and perceive what they are telling us.


As Dr. Pates so aptly framed it: "We must recognize the importance of the Ancestors as not only a part of our physical being but of our spiritual being, as well. The greatest Ancestral gift is the gift of identity. The Ancestors have given us our identity...Your identity is the essence out of which you achieve your purpose". Thus, we are faced with a question of the first order: How does a manufactured "Toby", that is designed to serve a self-appointed "master", achieve the purpose for which Kunta Kinte came into being? [12]


Severing our African Ancestral roots- by nick-naming us "N- words" and all their interminable variants, eg.: "savages"; and "sub-humans"; and "slaves"; and "low income"; and "minorities" and on and on- has been the modus operandi for keeping us in bondage for lo, these many centuries. This practice had and still has indelible, incalculable effects on our people, some of which remain to be identified.

The theft of our identity, by means of the de- ancestalization of our people, has been our common experience from the time our Ancestors "were captured and loaded onto floating prisons" until this very moment. We can no longer allow ourselves or our children to be victimized by the triple threat of "Historical Amnesia, Falsified Consciousness, and the Illusion of Inclusion"[13].


Dr. Ghingo Brooks concurred with Dr. Pates' assessment that "There is a need for some remedial work regarding how we [got] to where we are and how we must go to where we must go." In his empathic response, Dr. Brooks admonished us: "We, Elders, need to go hard at our youth! We need to go hard at our young people because our children are our future. We can't afford to lose [another] generation." It is by preserving our Ancestral ties by "arming our children with the truth" that we, as a people,- The Living, The Dead, and The Yet-unborn will live on in perpetuity.


"I must find the truth of heritage for myself

And pass it on to them, and in years to come

I believe, because I have armed them with the truth,

My children and my children's children

Will venerate me,

For it is the truth that will make us free!"[14]


( To Be Continued).


Recommended Viewing:


"What Shall I Tell My Children? Revisited." An Episode of The H3O Art of Life Show


Recommended Readings:


The official bookstore of Omni Virtual University is afriwarebooks.com. When you click on titles that are linked below and make your book purchases, a portion of the proceeds from those sales go to support our work.


Dr. Harold Pates, "Education: Pan African Ancestralism: Toward an African First World Social Theory A practical essay regarding the complexities of African Identity in the midst of Western oppression." Volume II


Awo Falokun Fatunmbi, "Egun: The Ifa Concept of Ancestor Reverence ".


Ancestor, George G.M. James, "Stolen Legacy".


Dr. Na'im Akbar, "Know Thy Self"


Ancestor, Toni Morrison, "The Bluest Eye"

-- "Beloved"

Ancestor Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "The Miseducation of the Negro".


Ancestor, Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, "Life With Margaret: The Official Autobiography of Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs".


Rev. Dr. Walter McCray, "The Black Presence in the Bible: Discovering The Black and African Identity of Biblical Persons and Nations". Volumes I and II


Blog Notes:


*Afia- Ghanaian name for a girl born on Friday: Amponsah-Name of Ghanaian kinship group who conferred the names.

[1] Dr. Harold Pates: "What Shall I Tell My Children? Revisited"


[2] Ancestor Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black? Reflections of an African American Mother" in "Life With Margaret: The Official Autobiography of Dr. Margaret T.G Burroughs"


[3] Ibid." What Shall I Tell My Children?..."


[4] "Sangre Yoruba: A Musical Journey Through Africa, Brazil, and Cuba.


[5] For a partial list of our "Intellectual Warriors" see, "Education: A Commentary on the Importance of African Identity in the Struggle of African American People, Volume I" by Dr. Harold Pates.

[6] Op Cit, Burroughs, "What Shall I Tell My Children?..."


[7] Launched in 1965, "Head Start" is a program that "provides early childhood education… to low-income children and families. In 1968, Head Start began funding a television series that eventually became Sesame Street. "


[8] "A series of basal readers… written by William S. Gray. The characters [ Dick and Jane, et al] first appeared in the Elson Gray readers in 1930 and continued in a subsequent series of books through the final version in 1965."


[9] Ancestors, "In Our Mothers' Gardens". Netflix Documentary


[10] Ibid., " In Our Mothers' Gardens"


[11] Op. Cit., "In Our Mothers' Gardens".


[12] Ancestor Alex Haley, "Roots: The Saga of an American Family"


[13] Gimbu Kali, "Historical Amnesia, Falsified Consciousness, and the Illusion of Inclusion" an H3O Art of Life Blog.


[14] Ibid. Burroughs, "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?..."


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