We cannot forget where we started

Published 6:30 pm Friday, January 26, 2018

By QuaWanna Bannarbie

Have you ever begun a road trip and watched the navigation system as you pulled away from your house?

I happen to live near Route 58. Whenever I head northeast, a bright purple line in the history track loops back to my house for the first few minutes of my journey. The “home” symbol is no longer in view as I continue farther away from where I started. When I do return home again, the history track that was highlighted in purple before is not visible in my navigation system. The previous journey is erased. It is a good thing that I have not forgotten where I started.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

As we approach the national observances of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, I cannot help thinking of the erased purple lines in the minds of many Americans. Recently, I attended the presentation of “Meet Frederick Douglass” with local poet Nathan Richardson. I sat in his audience at Paul D. Camp Community College on Jan. 20 thinking that I was knowledgeable of black history. After all, I am a black woman. Mr. Douglass engaged the audience, asking several questions of known historical facts. He was astonished at our inability to answer some of the questions and jokingly commented, “What are they teaching you in school these days?” I laughed, a little embarrassed. I sat there with my three children, ages 4 to 11, and I realized the history that I had lost. His genius re-enactment of the life of Frederick Douglass is now emblazoned in my and my children’s memory.

Mr. Richardson certainly delivers on his promise to make history come alive. It has been a week since I experienced that impressionable presentation and I am still thinking about it. Being in that audience caused me to contemplate ways that I could regain my history knowledge. If I read more books, that would help. However, words on paper do not always cement like experiences in our memory. You ask any person who has a first-hand experience of the Civil Rights movement or the Gulf War, and they recall these events as though they took place just yesterday. We all cannot be first-hand witnesses, and some of us would not want to be. Perhaps the next best thing, especially for our children, is the opportunity of re-enactment.

I have a great example of what I mean. This year, my daughter is studying American history. Last fall, she participated in an immigration simulation, reviewing the era in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Her teacher, Mrs. Hope Bradshaw, along with Mr. Janezic’s class and QUEST facilitator, Ms. Curran, conducted an “in school re-enactment” of a ship sailing from Europe to North America. The students, pretending to be passengers, traveled down a hallway from one classroom to the school auditorium. They were assigned cards that explained their fate once they arrived. The goal of the simulation was to model the hardships some of our ancestors endured during that era. My daughter recounted, with joy, the stories of her classmates for two to three days that week. The re-enactment clearly made an unforgettable impression.

When I watch the news today, I think of the history that we have lost. Outrage over topics of race, religion and education implies many of us do not know our heritage well. The bright purple track in our memory has been erased. How will they know without a teacher? Our children seldom understand from where we started just by mere reading about it.

Suffolk has such great history. The poets, teachers and creatives in our midst see the value of reminding us with bold re-enactments that change us forever. Encore. We want more. Can you imagine a present-day student sitting at a lunch counter and experiencing the harsh treatment of the 1960s? I know there are some things we want to forget.

Let me leave you with this: memorable shame has its place in historical value. Our memory serves to ensure that the worst is not repeated, the best is celebrated and we learn from it all. The system may have erased the previous history, but we cannot forget from where we started.

QuaWanna Bannarbie is an adjunct professor of nonprofit leadership and management with Indiana Wesleyan University, National and Global. Her children attend Suffolk Public Schools. Follow her on Twitter at @QNikki_Notes.