An Essay on Black History Month

By lawyer, activist and CEO Angela Rye

By Google Arts & Culture

Words by Angela Rye

Activism begins with a very important question: why NOT me or why NOT you or why NOT us?

And the answer: this – whatever “this” is: Slavery/mass incarceration, lynchings/police killings, Dr. King’s concept of shedding nobodyness/BLM, MeToo)—this shall not be.

My Dad named me after Angela Davis, a scholar and activist most known for her work with the Black Panther Party. Our name means "bringer of truth" or "messenger of God." For me, that meant telling my teachers when history books misrepresented black people.

My Dad is the same dude that ran one of the Panthers’ Free Breakfast programs from his job – Central Area Motivation Program. My Dad is a bullhorn-toting, large banner–waving protestor. He loves to march and protest–well, I don’t know if he loves to, but he definitely doesn’t miss the opportunity to engage in protest.

When people ask my Dad how he’s doing, he normally replies: “I’m just out here fighting this racism, man.” That statement is normally followed by him spouting statistics about disparities in contracting, education, or the criminal justice system in Washington state. All proof that racism is alive and well.

I didn’t get bit by the protesting and marching bug like my Dad and I, in fact, have shunned the term “activist” for most of my adult life. Being a lawyer, I suppose I believed activism was a less strategic form of ensuring advancement for our people. And I was wrong. I didn’t always agree with Dad on the means, but we certainly agree on the end goal. Racism must die. THAT I have always agreed with.

As the child of a protestor, I grew up singing ‘power to the people, the people’s power.’ I grew up SINGING “We shall overcome” but not SEEING it. We’d say: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” But where was justice?

Angela Rye for Black History Month

Angela Rye, photo by Alexander Laurent courtesy of Mass Appeal

We chanted “Power to the people, the people’s power...getting stronger by the hour.” But was it really?

At an early age my mom took me to see a Bobby Seale lecture. He had me at “All power to the people.” I was IN!

All power to the people meant trying to determine how to re-start the Black Panther Party, which proved to be challenging at our all-girls, predominantly white Catholic school. So I settled for starting a Black Student Union with my best friend. All power to the people meant serving on a committee developed by the Seattle police chief, to address excessive force and police brutality in my hometown.

It meant serving as a youth chaplain to the King County Juvenile Detention Center while I was in college.

It meant running a computer lab at a community center, so people like me had access to technology. It meant tutoring black high school students to make sure they got into college.

Angela Rye for Black History Month

Angela Rye, photo by Alexander Laurent courtesy of Mass Appeal

Knowing the history instilled in me from my parents, I knew we’d been at this a long time, the sacrifice of our ancestors activism too often resulting in death or imprisonment – Nat, Denmark, Huey, Afeni. With progress there’s always a step backwards, but that step backwards did not mean the people’s power was gone. It just meant we needed more to preserve the change we sought and continue to seek.

So I began to pursue power for good – again. It is with that willpower that I will fight for every BLACK LIFE that mattered, that matters, and that will matter.

And it is with that will power that I will continue to engage in work that will make freedom a reality for the next generation – in the face of the all obstacles, including the false equivalency that “BOTH SIDES” are to blame.

My activism is for everyone taking a knee who knows we weren't considered in the Declaration of Independence, the National Anthem, or this country’s flag. I stand on the shoulders of amazing women like Assata and Harriet and Sojourner and Dorothy and Angela and Ida and Queen Maxine and Tarana – every Black woman freedom fighter who made EVERY movement we’ve known in this country possible.

My activism is rooted in love because love will fuel the flame that empowers us to protect our power, our justice, and our freedom. Whether it’s sharing a hashtag on social media, using my platform to spread truth on issues impacting our community, challenging the community to be more diligent about supporting our businesses and our organizations – my activism is not optional.

Now when people ask me how I am doing…too often I reply like my father: just out here fighting this racism, man. I pray neither of us will have to say that much longer.

It’s time for racism to die.

It's time to not just STAY woke, it's time to WORK woke. Our brighter future depends on it.

Angela Rye for Black History Month

Angela Rye, photo by Alexander Laurent courtesy of Mass Appeal

Credits: Story

Words by Angela Rye | Photo by Alexander Laurent courtesy of Mass Appeal

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The past, present, and future of the Black experience in the United States
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