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When Words Matter: Noting the Sustained Brilliance among African Peoples
On May 6, 2012, the Reverend Dr. Otis Moss Jr, a Civil Rights icon, preached a Baccalaureate address in the Fisk Memorial Chapel titled “Words Matter.” In a standing room only arena with people of African descent of various ages and educational achievements present, Dr. Moss eloquently and successfully made the case that the words that we say about ourselves and the words that are said about us have political, economic, cultural and spiritual implications for our future as a people. For example, if elected officials who do not love black children successfully argue that they cannot learn, then these officials will promote legislation which reduces funding to programs such as Head Start, and they may promote legislation which leads to racial-profiling and the excessive policing of black communities. His sermon echoed the words of Solomon in Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue….” Silence on consequential matters is often interpreted as agreement; therefore, there are times in which those who have a respect for democracy, community, civilization and people of African descent must reemphasize that words truly matter.
There is a strain of thought operative in our current, national dialogue which suggests that people from the Motherland and people from the nation of Haiti have little if nothing to offer the international community. Has the world forgotten that Africa is the birthplace of civilization? Has the world forgotten that the genesis of Greek thought is deeply rooted in African philosophy (see Black Athena by Martin Bernal or The Stolen Legacy by George James)? Has the world forgotten the brilliance of Kwame Nkrumah, an HBCU graduate (Lincoln University) and an Ivy League graduate (University of Pennsylvania), who resisted British imperialism and become the first Prime Minister of Ghana? Has the world forgotten the genius of Toussaint Louverture who helped to establish a new and better future for the resilient people of Haiti? Has the world forgotten the contributions of famous African women such as Nzingha, Hatshepsut, Mariam Makeba, Winnie Mandela and Wangari Maathai? If African nations have become somewhat destabilized, it is largely because they are still recovering from hundreds of years of colonialization and systematic exploitation. The Continent is not without challenges; however, the resilience of these nations is a testament to the brilliance of the people within them.
As an academician, I can attest to the fact that the brilliance of the students of African decedent from Africa and the Caribbean persists to the present day. Many of our most astute and conscientious students are international students. We value them, and we love them. Indeed, we are forever mindful that the words we employ around them will indeed help to shape their future.