Most of us know the feeling of seeing a loved one or an old friend that we have not seen in a while; perhaps years. Think about that feeling. What comes to mind? Is there a feeling of warmth? A feeling of connection? Feelings of peace or joy? More importantly does the feeling arise where you didn’t realize something was missing in your life because of the absence of that person? This is the feeling I ask you to reflect on.

With each passing day there seems to be new challenges in our lives and, more importantly, in our society. Of course, challenges are a part of life. But there seems to be an extreme acceleration of late. We are navigating through a time of pandemic. We are seeing and ever-increasing breakdown in civility within our society, especially on the topic of race. With these tensions increasing, America is being forced to look in the mirror without the option of conveniently turning away as it has done in the past.

We have seen racial injustice come to the forefront. We have seen tragedy unfold before our eyes on our screens. What a damning effect this has on our psyche as individuals, as a people, and as a society. We must work harder to seek out solutions. We must examine how we got here.

There is or rather should be a quest to find connection. What, however, are we seeking to connect to and why? There is of course the connection between past and present. We must go deeper. Traditionally, we reference the relatively short time span which encapsulates the enslaving of Africans, so-called Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. The ongoing thoughts and discussions had by many, find their reference in this deficient timeline. All we have to show by looking through this limited lens is an obvious indication of how far we have not come. To dig deeper is essential to any progress we may hope to have.

We begin to go deeper by exploring who we were before enslavement. Where did we come from? The response certainly must be more thought out than the customary response; Africa. We must understand first, that Africa is a diverse composite of not only nations, but tribes, customs, languages, and beliefs. We must go deeper than what we have learned, sporadically at best, from a society that does not believe our best interest is in their best interest.

We must learn and spread that knowledge to our brothers, sisters, and especially our children. We must reclaim our story telling traditions. We must know culture. We must understand ancient civilizations. How did these civilizations and cultures live? What was life like? Education, science, medicine, law and governance? What was their influence on the world? Commerce, trade, exploration?

As we strive for progress, we must first ask what that progress looks like. The most important aspect of making progress is developing identity. Where do you come from? Who are your people? Identity is key to self-respect and love of self. When we love and respect who we see in the mirror we can then love and respect those in our families, those in our community, those in our society. If I know who I am and who I belong to, it now becomes difficult to harm others especially those like me.  It now becomes impossible for others to determine my thinking, or more importantly how I think about myself.

There is no better time to recapture our culture. To know that culture is to reconnect with that person we did not know we missed.

M.D. Anderson