“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”
“Lift Every Voice and Sing”- James Weldon Johnson
Every February I listen to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as our nation honors and celebrates Black history. In schools, our homes, and the media, we pay respect to the more than 400 years of history, culture, advancement and achievement of America’s citizens and ancestors of the African Diaspora. As I reflect on the countless narratives that comprise our Nation’s rich, but sometimes turbulent history, I am left with two words that embody the beloved “American Dream” we all share. Courage and Hope.
The courage of Harriet Tubman, the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the hope of former President Barack Obama, remind us of our own power to create the world we wish to be a part of. As former First Lady Michelle Obama proclaimed, “history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”
A spark of courage and hope can create ripples felt for generations to come. Shortly after being freed from slavery, Jane Oliver acquired a vast amount of land in Arkansas. This was uncommon for any woman at the time, particularly one born into slavery. Jane Oliver had both the courage and hope to overcome the circumstances she was born into, turning her dream into reality, and creating an inspiring legacy for her descendants.
I am the great-great-great granddaughter of Jane Oliver. A portion of my youth was spent sitting in courtrooms watching my non-lawyer mother represent Jane Oliver’s Estate in an eminent domain action against the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff. In those early moments of my life, I had not yet fathomed that I would later fill myself with the courage and hope of my ancestor by becoming the first attorney in my family. Remembering the words of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” I am reminded that, like many who came before me “I am the dream and the hope of a slave.”
Reflecting on the progress we have made toward a reality where the “American Dream” belongs to all those who wish to dream it, I cannot help but sing a song that, while honoring our past, is full of hope for our future. We need not look further than LA5 to realize the difference we have made toward creating a world where dreams are transmuted into reality. May we, united as one, continue embodying the courage and hope of the “American Dream” for generations to come.