For my culture, my ancestors were slaves in America and the spirituals the slaves created hold within them our African-American oral history and our cultural heritage. What makes the spirituals different from all the other musical art forms, is in truth, the spirituals were never intended to be music in the first place. It is indeed the humanness of the spirituals that reminds humanity, it doesn’t matter where or what privilege you are born into, we are all human beings and we are all connected and a spiritual is a declaration of that fact. The slaves created these spirituals, work day songs, and plantation songs not as a musical art form to be performed or displayed in public as most art forms are, but a spiritual was a glimpse into the soul of a humble slave seeking love and comfort by having a conversation with God out loud in the form of a hum, moan or groan or simple repetitive phrases, talking straight from their heart to God. And because the slave had such a strong faith you could feel the reflection of God’s answer in their call and response. What we hear, and what we feel every time a spiritual is sung is that humble human being having the courage to have a conversation with God. It reminds us we are not alone in this world, and that we are loved even if our human condition may seem a harsh and cruel reality. A spiritual is beyond art, it is the beauty of our humanity stoping for a moment to come together soul to soul to see God’s reflection in the eyes of man in a world of chaos and separation. We all seek to find love and we find it in the humble spiritual. They made a way out of no way in spite of their enslavement, it gives us pause, to feel pride and gratitude for what our ancestors had the fortitude to accomplish for those of us not yet born. What will we pay forward?
As part of our cultural diversity we have a great opportunity to share our music and cultural art with our nation and the global community. It gives us the opportunity to meet other cultures other than our own, learn new languages even if it is only a few words, and what we discover is how much more alike we are than we are different. Sharing our differences through music and art, allows other cultures to see in depth who we are and what makes us unique.
African American cultural heritage is a rich, dynamic, and vital piece of our American multi-cultural population and diverse cultural heritage as a nation. For far too long we have only been seen or recognized as the stigma’s and labels that have been thrust upon us. For years we have fallen into the trap of believing the labels and have forgotten who we really are and the extensive contributions and sacrifices all of our forefathers made to build this nation. We have been stuck on words in headlines that evoke fear and are demeaning, divisive and segregate people into categories based on money, greed and oligarch behaviors not compatible with democracy. Instead of tearing down our multi-cultural nation in the name of fear, we can change our thoughts, words and deeds to be more empowering that would embrace and describe who we really are as a people. Let us choose to be inclusive, embracing, and grateful for our diversity. We are a beautiful multi-cultural nation, you don’t have to travel very far to see it, just take a look at the beauty in the faces around you. Cultural diversity is a beautiful thing! One love.