“Slaves were not brought to America, people were.” – Marc Lamont Hill
This quote stuck with me. It was one of the first things Marc Lamont Hill said when he got to the podium.
I’ve seen Hill speak on television as an African-American activist, but I had never seen him speak in person until Monday night.
Hill spoke at George Washington University to kick off Black History Month. Hill started out as a journalist and and is recognized for his social activist work and as a one-time political contributor on Fox News. He is now a professor of African-American studies at Morehouse College and a political contributor on CNN News.
I was amazed at his motivational speech. It gave me chills at certain times. Before he went further into his speech, he told everyone to stand.
“Everyone stand up and help me sing the black national anthem,” Hill said.
I started to look around the room in confusion because I didn’t know there was a black national anthem. People were singing, while I was standing not knowing what to sing – feeling ashamed. This moment reminded me of how much I still have yet to learn about my culture.
Growing up, my family never really focused on the black culture of my father. Instead, my family spent their time trying to instill the Asian culture of my mother into my sister, my cousins and me. Of course, I learned a little in school. But there were many other people I needed to know about other than Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X – so many.
I ended up googling the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” to sing along with everyone.
Hill began to talk about the United States as a whole, and how the country has wronged blacks by denying their rights and freedom.
“What we faced 100 years ago is what we’re still facing today. We’re just not in physical slavery,” Hill said. “David Walker argued that the Constitution was made for America’s freedom, but the Negro is not free. Listen to yourself.”
Hill kept repeating the line “listen to yourself” to indicate that the U.S. was not listening to itself.
“How can a country be free if the people in it are not free?” Hill said. “How can you say we’re lazy, but you made us slaves?”
Contradictory, right? He said the line over and over again to ingrain it into our heads. It all came together in mine.
Not only did he talk about blacks in America, but he also spoke about Muslims, transgender and gays and other oppressed people.
“Politicians ask how do we stop terrorism – first, we must define terrorism,” Hill said. “What happened to Emmett Till is terrorism. Before there was al-Qaida, there was the KKK – that is terrorism.”
Although I thought his speech was phenomenal, there was a question that grabbed my attention.
A 12-year-old girl in the crowd stood up to ask Hill a question.
“When did you know you were not a Negro, and just a regular human being?” she asked.
My heart dropped. It brought back memories of how I grew up not knowing I was different until society forced me to see myself otherwise.
I remembered being called the “N” word on the playground at recess in the sixth grade. Looking at this child realizing she was different from the rest because society views her as different, was heartbreaking. I knew how it felt.
She was only 12, I remember thinking. The only thing she should view herself as is a human being. We are all just human beings.
Hill smiled, gave the girl advice and told her to read Malcolm X’s book “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
He ended his speech encouraging us to be brave to make change and to be the change in the world.
“Act bravely,” Hill said. “This is the generation of bravery.”
Reach reporter Erica Y. King at [email protected] or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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