Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an article written by YR Media CEO Kyra Kyles for Philanthropy News Digest. Read the full text here.
Years ago, when I was a reporter for a well-known daily, a colleague of mine noticed my “I Voted” sticker.
“You vote?” she asked, adding that she had not voted since starting her journalism career. “Aren’t you afraid that if anyone digs into your voting record you’ll seem…biased?”
I looked at her — a white woman in her early twenties — uncomprehendingly. She might as well have expressed surprise that I ate, drank, and showered on a daily basis.
I explained to her that my great-grandmother, Mildred “Belle” Cosey, was an unsung civil rights hero from Mississippi who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., participated in the Freedom Rides, and taught other Black people in her community how to vote. In the 1960s, the hard-nosed, eloquent, and impeccably fashionable woman I knew as “Greatmama” hosted Poor People’s Club gatherings in her home and not only instructed her neighbors on the basics of the electoral process but escorted her “students” to the polls, where, fearful that their white employers would see and fire them, she would hold their trembling hands.
A generation on, her granddaughter (my mother) was forced to sit in the “colored” balcony of the local movie theater. In her late teens, having inherited her grandmother’s penchant for eye-catching attire, my mom, on a visit to an exclusive department store in Jackson, Mississippi, was discouraged from trying on any clothes. It was well known in the community and confirmed for her by a salesperson that any item of clothing worn by a Black person, even briefly, would have to be discarded so as not to upset the store’s white clientele.
Blackness isn’t something that anyone in my generation, my mother’s generation, or her mother’s mother’s generation (and those who preceded them) has ever been allowed to forget. The same is true on my Alabama-born father’s side.
As I watch a new generation take up the fight in the seemingly endless war against racism in America, I am also fully aware that my identity as a Black person is intrinsic to my being and affects every aspect of my life in America.
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