Imagine growing up while being told every day in dozens, even hundreds of ways that you are worth less than other human beings.
“Everybody wanna sing my blues, nobody wanna live my blues.” ~~ Langston Hughes
Sounds of Blackness – “Living the Blues”
Like almost everyone here in the Delta, I was deeply touched by the passing of blues legend B.B. King. King will be buried here on the grounds of the museum that bears his name in his nearby hometown, Indianola, Mississippi. He was not only a great musician, but also a wonderful human being, and in his own special way, a teacher.
B.B. King often tried to help people who were not familiar with the blues or the African American experience that produced them understand that the blues were not just about sadness. In fact, the people who sing and listen to the blues, find it not just entertaining, but often uplifting. Of course, there are those for whom blues music is nothing but entertainment. But for those who understand the blues and conditions that produced them, this music and its history are a metaphor for Black life in America.
There’s a great difference between knowing about something versus living it.
Racism. Poverty. Abuse. Courage. Faith. Love.
I’m reminded of this daily as I work with students, many of whom live in and through all sorts of traumatic, stressful conditions. Imagine growing up while being told every day in dozens, even hundreds of ways that you are worth less than other human beings.
You don’t deserve a decent school building. You don’t deserve new books or computers that work. You don’t deserve fully-trained teachers. Most of your teachers leave, some without finishing the school year. You don’t deserve advanced or gifted classes, those are for smart people. You’re at risk; you’re low performing; you’re a discipline problem. You probably won’t even finish high school; you’ll probably go to jail. You’re a thug. You’re from a single parent home; you’ll probably end up on welfare like your mama….
Yet, like the blues artists, they survive; they persevere; and they emerge creating beauty as they go.
We just celebrated the end of our church’s after-school program for this year by recognizing all the children for their accomplishments, promotions, and graduations. We also celebrated the parents, grandparents, teachers, and volunteers who worked hard to support them. B.B. King said, “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you,” and many of these Delta children have shown their desire to learn in spite of the poor conditions, false images, and low expectations confronting them. In our summer program this year, the children will learn more about the blues, including a visit to the B.B. King Museum, as well as other local history. But most of all, we’ll celebrate him and living.