These days I’ve witnessed the bond in families slowly grow thinner and thinner with each generation. In this age of social media, it’s so easy to disconnect from family in our proximity or distant aunts or uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. “Connecting” nowadays has been redefined to mean Facebook and IG likes or emoticons every once in a while. A new generation is being raised that doesn’t even know that this aspect of social interaction is missing from their lives. Operating from the “can’t miss what you never had” premise. All the social interaction they’ve ever known takes place from behind a keyboard and computer screen.
Some youngstas don’t know the bonding that takes place when cousins hang out for a week, or a summer or a childhood. They haven’t enjoyed the road trips in the summer to go meet and spend time with family in other parts of the country; bonding over great food, music and stories from their elders’ childhoods. With the day to day divisiveness that permeates society, I think it’s imperative that in-person connections happen as often as possible. We have to ensure that contact within the branches of the family tree doesn’t deteriorate; that the love doesn’t erode with each generation.
Griot Tradition. A griot is a West African storyteller, singer, musician, and oral historian. They train to excel as orators, lyricists and musicians. The griot keeps records of all the births, deaths, marriages through the generations of the village or family.
Every family needs a matriarch. That person that knows the different branches of grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They often know a good deal of the family history, anecdotes and can be a wealth of information to pay forward to future generations. They are the modern day griots. As far back as I can remember, my grandmother was the center point of our family. I remember her as a strong, ageless woman, fiercely loyal to family and always preaching to us to love one another “... ‘cause family is all we got”. She was the sweetest person to ever beat my ass when I messed up as a kid. She could go on for hours
about growing up down south and her dad and siblings; relatives I’d never meet. To me, that’s what kids are missing these days. Not the ONLY thing they’re missing but that sense of family and community is a major brick in the foundation that the person and family unit is built upon. I call her The Glue. She was the main artery that kept the heart of our family beating. The Glue that ensured that we knew of and eventually met our family down south, in Chicago and California. The Glue that stood by and demonstrated a standard that we all carry forward now.
One reason to fight for family unity, in my opinion, is to retain knowledge of our families’ back stories. A sliver that contributes toward a national archive of Black history on an individual basis. Black families don’t typically have our family histories documented and chronicled in Vital Statistics departments, beyond a couple of generations back. For instance, my mom was born at home in the deep South in 1929 and didn’t even have a formal birth certificate created right away. A birth record was created at a later date. A lot of what I know of my family’s history comes from conversations with my elders that recap and retell anecdotes and real history from THEIR recollections. Our elders hold the key. This kind of information may never be found at City Hall or in a history book. And the capacity for history to be rewritten right from under our feet means that we should have our own archival information. In my own family a property inheritance issue came up that required an in-depth look at our family history. I made audio recordings of conversations with my mom about our family as far back as she could remember. I was amazed at all the anecdotes and real family history I had no idea about. From her vantage point. Now that she’s gone I cherish those recordings just hearing her voice. But they also encapsulate some family history that I can share with my son, my brothers’ kids. I’m not quite at GLUE level yet but it feels good to honor my mom and my grandmother with paying their teaching forward.
You should try it. Be the glue.
Positive Black Images
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Black Diamonds Scholarship Fund's 2016 Recipient, Joyalise Shelton