My Soul is a Witness is a title inspired by the Negro Spiritual song, “Witness,” but I did not choose such a title because I think of myself and my people as “Negroes.” I chose such a title because of the powerful messages and influence these songs had on our people as they transitioned from enslavement to freedom. Powerful messages I hope to also convey through my poetry.
There is a great spiritual awakening happening among Black people today as we strive to unlearn the lies they taught us for over 400 years. Whether that is starting and running our own businesses, embracing our natural hair or re-educating our young people on the parts of our history left out of the history books.
And to what am I a witness?
I am a witness to the trials and struggles my people have endured and I am a witness to our power to overcome those struggles. I am a witness also to my own sufferings which I am sure have been experienced by others. In this way, I am a witness to the fight that we all have. And why the fight? It is easy to present an image of healing and wholeness, but I believe it is much more fruitful if people knew of the struggles that got us where we are today.
From a historical perspective, I have not experienced the Middle Passage or enslavement or Jim Crow, but as a descendent of people who did, I am connected to those experiences just as if I had been there with them. In the Black community, we do not say, “when they fought for freedom,” we say, “when we fought for freedom.” The same can be true of the struggles of our own personal lives. If someone says they have been homeless before, I can relate because I have been homeless before too. I am a witness to what that’s like. If someone says they have a family member who is an addict, I can relate. I also have family members who are addicts. The anguish that causes in a family and what it does to that person and their loved ones are not lost to me. I can relate to that. I am a witness to that experience.
I believe epigenetic trauma is real. Epigenetics is the idea that trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes, which then is passed down to subsequent generations. (C. Benedict, New York Times) This means that a child or grandchild can experience side-effects from the traumatic experience of his/her elders. Since the concept of epigenetics, more and more studies hint to the inheritability of trauma where our own day-to-day health (and perhaps our children too) may have something to do with our inheritance of our parents and grandparents suffering.
One personal example is my own mother’s struggle with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder). Her grandson, my nephew, suffers from asthma badly, though both his parents do not have asthma. Could he have inherited my mother’s affliction to a degree?
Thus, I do not find it far-fetched that Blacks/African Americans could still struggle from the mental and spiritual grief that plagued our forefathers long ago. We are witnesses to this pain on a deeply personal level which makes the Negro Spiritual deeply personal to us. While our ancestors were escaping physical enslavement, I believe we are escaping mental enslavement today.
As it applies to all people from the perspective of suffering and struggle, we all have a fight we are engaged in and when we overcome this fight, we become witnesses to that experience and can help others to overcome those same tribulations.
If trauma can be passed down, then so can healing. My soul is a witness.
Have you read I am Soul yet? Grab it here. My Soul is a Witness is coming this fall.