Holding a very little me in this photo taken at one of our many semi-annual family gatherings in Ellensburg, Washington, is a central figure -- the matriarch -- of the proverbial village that raised me: Aunt Muriel.
The oldest of my dad’s three sisters, Aunt Muriel has always made darn sure every single one of us in the family knew joy in our lives despite all the reasons one could choose to be down. I largely owe my optimism for the future -- for humanity -- to the spark she made sure never blew out. It’s that spark that has made me want to live the entrepreneurial life and to create new and better things in our world with my career; what Aunt Muriel encouraged in me greatly shaped the perspective I try my best to infuse in all we do at Landed.
A lifelong public school teacher who retired only a few years ago, Aunt Muriel showed me how our history can and should be an integral part of our present. She’s taught me to summon wisdom from our ancestral past both to better understand the here and now, and to discover the deep sense of joy that’s central to surviving and thriving.
When we caught up recently, she shared, “with all the horrors my parents and grandparents, and their parents and grandparents before them, had to take on -- being a slave, blatant segregation, the dogs sicced on us for trying to be equal -- they were never the down-and-out, feeling-sorry-for-myself kinds of people. They dug deep into their laughter and their sense of connection to each other and the great world around them, to find lightness wherever there was darkness. And looking back, it seems like there was nothing but darkness to be found. I don’t know if I could have done it like they did, but we have to keep turning to their example, always”.
Aunt Muriel has never let my family take our eye off the ball of what is unfolding all around us. The power of a good education, the necessity of deep social connection, the influence our natural environment has in shaping who we are...all of this mattered a lot, and we never were allowed to forget it. BUT, just as important as all of that was, there was also always a need to breakout the plastic poker chips and play five-card-draw for pennies and nickels, to take turns acting out a grand round of charades, or to strap in for bucking down the rolling rapids of great Pacific Northwest rivers in a big, grey raft.
Perspective is the gift I’ve inherited from my own history, which Aunt Muriel and others have made present in my life. My ancestors endured American-style slavery (and all that followed) and they lived to see another day, to give me my day, today. The power to go on and to believe things will get better requires us to believe that our moment right now is not all that different from the moments that came before and, indeed, will happen in the future. It requires that we tap into a deeper, cosmic joy that comes with accepting it’s all connected: the darkness and, most importantly, the light.
“If they (the ancestors) were able to do THAT, surely I can do this”, we must continue to remind ourselves. “If I didn’t get to see the world be what I hoped it would be, then I have faith it will get there someday for a future generation to see”. Truly “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to descend from people who were forced to learn the secrets to resilience. Thanks, Auntie, for teaching me how to honor my Black history. I will continue doing my best to channel what our ancestors learned and passed down to us for the betterment of all lives, everywhere, both then and now.
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