Today’s prompt: What is the longest thing you know by heart (for example, a prayer, speech, commercial jingle, etc.)? Why did you learn it?
In my early teens my Auntie E helped to organize a Saturday morning language/heritage class for black students. The deal was that there had to be a language component, which proved the most interesting choice – after all what’s a common language to blacks of Caribbean and African decent? In the end they chose Swahili. I remember only a few words like, jambo means hello. The language component never really stuck but the history did.
Yes, we learned all about the well-known figures from the African diaspora but more than that we learned a different version of history. A history that would, could and did empower many of us in the classes. Beyond slavery. Beyond professional sports. Contributions in medicine, science, the arts, etc. the things our public educations glossed over or completely disregarded.
I remember learning to memorize all the countries in Africa and the Caribbean. I remember taking quizzes about the things we spoke of. This was when I first read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Putting on shows for our parents – singing and displaying our work but the one thing that I still remember word for word is this poem written by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers died
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.
If you want to hear it there are numerous versions online but here’s one I like.