For my entire primary education, I attended a private school. But pause Killer Mike acolytes, this wasn’t some hortytorty, bougie (unless you mean bad & boujee), smug private school. This was an all black Christian school. Now, all black doesn’t mean exclusive mind you, it’s just that, it was a tiny school in a rough black neighborhood in the south, that operated in conjunction with its connected black church, so… white folks generally weren’t gonna show up there. I give all of those particulars to say that, my entire foundation was a treasure box of Black history, African appreciation and learning a wealth of information about myself and culture that none of my black counterparts received in the public schools I knew (isn’t that a way to flip the conversation).

A constant of this feast of Black culture was “Life Every Voice and Sing” — “our” national anthem. Now, don’t get your panties in a wad “nationalists”, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. We knew the “Star Spangled Banner”. We had the American flag in every classroom. We are Americans, I know so many of you forget that. But “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was the apex of Black appreciation, a unique experience even in this land that is still our home. We had to memorize it. I believe we took a quiz on it to ensure we knew it (although I may be misremembering that, we had some tough teachers). We sang it often, but never as much as we did in the month of February where we also always had an epic Black History Month program which was my favorite event every year. The melody, lyrics, and meaning behind the song have been cemented in my brain. When I forget how to make my momma’s famous 7-Up pound cake, I’ll still remember that we “sing a song, full of the faith that the dark past has taught us”.

Even with the Black National Anthem being such an unmovable part of who I am, I honestly still had not thought on it for years. Then… then that damn Creole queen Beyoncé, marched all them thighs on stage in the middle of a hot desert in California before the world and a whole bunch of grungy, hippie, sweaty, tattered haired white people who looked confused and belted out “Lift every voice… and… sing…” and every lyric, inflection came back to me instantly. I hadn’t sung it in over a decade probably, but it came pouring out of me like I was right back there in Mrs. Wiggins third grade class waiting to go to chapel. This past weekend I watched Amanda Seales give her homage to the Black National Anthem during her HBO special “I Be Knowin'” and it brought back that same feeling of pride and connection with the diaspora.

So, on the first day of Black History Month, I wanted to dedicate this post to that most eloquently written poem-turned-song; somber and haunting yet inspiring melody, that is “Life Every Voice and Sing”. It was originally written by poet, author, civil rights activist, lawyer and a list other impressive titles that also includes leader in the NAACP — James Weldon Johnson.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning 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 ’til 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 sighed?
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,
‘Til 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 has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has 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.

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