The Inspiration of Alex Haley’s Roots

My one and only classic 1976 original version of Roots: The Saga of an American Family
 
It took Alex Haley 12 years to finish Roots: The Saga of an American Family, known widely as simply, Roots. The book shot straight to the top of the bestseller charts, and the twelve-hour mini-series (Jan. 1977) was watched by 130 million people. They translated the book into 37 languages; it won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, and sales soared to over 5.5 million.
 
This was not without controversy. No success story is. Haley had to settle a plagiarism suit out of court—that part of his story was copied from a 1967 novel, The African (The Guardian). It was also said there was no documented evidence that the alleged elder he spoke to in the Gambia had been accurate in his account of Kinte. Critics said that if Haley had written Roots as a fiction novel, there would not have been a cause for alarm. “Most of us feel it’s highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village whence his ancestors sprang”, Henry Louis Gates Jr said in 1998, calling Roots “a work of the imagination.” (But if you listen to Haley here, his story is very detailed. It is also consistent with many of his other interviews and speeches about the story of how Roots came about. This is hard to do if you are lying). 
 
Roots is now part of history and the original 1977 TV series awakened a new generation of young Blacks to the horrors of enslavement when movies and television shows about slavery were few and far in-between (both in books and film). While it may seem an over-saturated topic now, in 1977 this was groundbreaking.
 

Enslaved persons had little knowledge of what Haley referred to as “family continuity.” They were sold so much that as adults they came to know little about their family lineage, where they came from and who they were. Roots was therefore something special because Blacks had come out of the Black Power movement of the 60s, had just seen the deaths of Medgar Evers, Martin King, and Malcolm X. Roots was not just the story of one man’s family but the family of all Black people who had been taken captive and robbed of their family tree and any connection to it. It would become a history lesson, a recommended educational film that Black parents will watch with their children with just as much seriousness as their parents forced them to watch The Ten Commandments. Some would even name their children Kunta Kinte.

After Roots, Octavia Butler used time travel to explore slavery in Kindred (1979), Alice Walker used an African subplot (Nettie’s life in Africa) in The Color Purple (1982) which also went on to win a Pulitzer and National Book Award, and Toni Morrison made a fugitive slave her protagonist in Beloved (1987). Beloved was voted the most influential African-American novel of the 20th century in a poll of PBS viewers. But as Frances Smith Foster has pointed out, “in terms of actual audience and effect on politics and policies, Roots has been the most influential such story in the modern era.”

As I listened to the entire 2hours of the clip linked above, I wondered why I was doing this when I had (seemingly) much more important stuff to do. That is until I came to the final hour and fifty something minutes. Here, Haley speaks about how the father’s name the babies at eight days old. In the villages, the people would not see much of the father for seven days because he was spending time with the baby to come up with a good meaningful and significant name. On the eighth day the people would gather at the family’s home. The mother would come out once hearing the signal and sit on the stool and hold the eight-day-old baby. The father would walk over, lift the infant, and whisper the name into the infant’s ear three times.

He would do this so that the infant would be the first one to know who he/she was. This resembles, to me, the ancient practice of circumcision of the male child, and naming of the child, in ancient Israelite culture (Gen 17:12) which I believe is also Black culture. For example, the Ashanti Empire was a powerful Akan empire and kingdom in what is now modern-day Ghana. Ashan was the name of a city in southern Israel. The word Ashan in Hebrew means “smoke” “smoke city” or “burning city” so that Ashanti means “the people of Ashan or the people of the smoke city”. This was a reference to the city of Ashan after the Israelites took it over during the conquest of Canaan (1 Ch 4:32, 1 Ch 6:59). The Ashanti people had many Hebrew customs and traditions as part of their way of life. For eight days after the birth of a child, it is only on the eighth day that the child receives his/her personal name.

It was here that I had discovered the purpose of my listening to this piece in its entirety. I believe this to be such a powerfully subtle telling of who we, so-called Blacks in America, truly are. For the customs of the Hebrews is something that can still be found among many African cultures such as the Ashan. 

Roots is a powerful example of why we shouldn’t give up on whatever we are striving toward. It inspires me as a writer and as a person of the fruits of patience and of perseverance. While Roots has had (and continues to have) much success, remember that it took Haley 12 years to complete (one whole year from Kunta’s birth to capture… which could be a book by itself). 

Think about that the next time you worry about that book taking too long to finish.

Twelve. Whole. Years.

31 Years, 31 Life Lessons

Me having fun in Raleigh North Carolina #Travels

I am officially on vacation. This means that I am doing my favorite thing: traveling. I had a ball in North Carolina and my next stop is Alabama to visit the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. I also just had a birthday. Since I turned 31, I thought of 31 life lessons I’ve learned to date. Some of them I am still working on (like my patience) but they are lessons life has taught me were important nonetheless:

  1. Always put Yah and Yahoshua first. YAH is faithful. He can and he will.
  2. Be yourself. People don’t have to like you and you don’t have to care.
  3.  If it doesn’t feel right that’s because it’s not right.
  4. Remember, the more you know, the less you speak. Sometimes the loudest one in the room is also the weakest one in the room.
  5. Watch everything. Let nothing go over your head. Listen to body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Hear everything people don’t say in words.
  6. Establish boundaries, let people know what those boundaries are and remind them when they have transgressed them.
  7. No is a complete sentence. You are allowed to turn down a commitment without feeling guilty about it.
  8. Marriage is sacred. Protect it. Remember that everything doesn’t belong on social media. Learn to experience something beautiful and tell no one.
  9. New beginnings. It’s never too late to begin again.
  10. Love all. Trust few.
  11. Be patient with yourself.
  12. Call your mother. You only get one.
  13. Pay attention to yourself. Your actions reveal your heart.
  14. Speak up. People don’t know how to love you if you don’t show them. If something irritates or annoys you, say it.
  15. Never sacrifice your integrity no matter how enticing the opportunity.
  16. Don’t chase people. If someone wants to be in your life, you’ll know.
  17. Because of the increase in lawlessness, the love of the world has grown cold so be kind, be gentle, be considerate.
  18. Karma is a real thing. If you don’t want it to happen to you, don’t do it to others.
  19. Some people say that cucumbers taste better pickle.” < See how this statement makes no sense? Just because something sounds deep, doesn’t mean that it is.
  20. Be a fool for no one.
  21. Friendships are sacred. Don’t go around calling everyone you friend or sister. Make them prove it.
  22. Remember to check on your strong friends.
  23. Assume nothing. Validate everything.
  24. Laugh. Let joy rub off on you. One day you won’t have the privilege of being in a good mood. One day things won’t be so joyous and you’ll just have the memories of when they were.
  25. Make memories.
  26. Don’t ever look down on someone for not knowing what you know. There was a time when you didn’t know either.
  27. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  28. Spend time alone. Get to know yourself.
  29. Be willing to walk alone, than with a thousand snakes.
  30. Remember the homeless as if chained to them. Let their condition be a reminder of your humility. Your life could always be worse.
  31. Remember that there is a way of correcting people without telling the whole world. Educate, but do not make people feel less than they are. Even if someone is wrong, give them the tools they need to be successful but leave them with their dignity.

The Layers of You

Your strength is in your mind(1)

Every new level of your life will require a different version of you. Not a new version, just a different version. A version that was always there but that you were not ready or mature enough to see. A part that possibly, before now, you would not have understood.

Whenever you are going through something that seems unfair and difficult to cope with remember that another, perhaps much stronger, version of yourself is being unveiled and that process is not easy. It’s not easy because growth often requires pain or at the very least a certain level of discomfort. No one wanted to have pimples all over their face or have to deal with cramps, menstrual cycles (for women) or the emotional ups and downs of puberty but these changes were necessary as we transitioned from childhood to adulthood.

We are layers of an onion shedding one version of ourselves for another as we journey through life. I cannot now drink milk from a bottle. That version of me is gone. I cannot now sit on a rug in Kindergarten or at a desk in first grade and I cannot go back to High School. It is not even appropriate for me to go back to the past year, that version of me, these versions of me, are long gone. I must seek now an understanding of what this moment requires of me. This layer of me. This version of me.

These are the layers of you.


Yecheilyah (e-see-lee-yah) is an Author, Blogger, and Poet of nine published works including her soon-to-be released short inspirational guide “Keep Yourself Full.” Learn more by exploring Yecheilyah’s writing on this blog and her website at yecheilyahysrayl.com. Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One) is her latest novel and is available now on Amazon.com.

The Seed

It’s not always easy to endure, but may today be different. May the seeds of goodness root themselves in your souls. For without seeds the earth is barren land. Do not worry then if things do not start out as tree stumps, for even it started first as a seed. From there the seed grows roots and they lock and load themselves into position, like protest hands before the face of Civil Disobedience, we shall not be moved. Roots are the key, for once the roots have super glued themselves in good soil a seed gives birth and a tiny plant eventually breaks through. When this happens, we say that a seed has sprouted. And so, today, may your seed sprout. May it become one with the soil in which you’ve planted it, and may it root itself. Understand that it must first start off as a seed. Tiny. Unnoticeable. Fragile. Weak. With my fingers, I can crush a seed. Do not worry then if things shake up a bit. If you trial. If you struggle. If you go unnoticed. If you feel at first small, insignificant, and delicate, for once the tree was. And now, see how it towers above us.

No Whining Wednesday – Wait It Out

It’s that time of the week again. Welcome back to No Whining Wednesday. The only day of the week where you do not get to whine, criticize, or complain. If you’re new to this blog or new to this segment, please visit the first post HERE for more on what this is about. For those of you who’ve been rocking with us since we started, I hope that you’ve settled into a no complaining routine! OK well, at least on Wednesdays!

The No Whining Wednesday Badge

Today’s motivational quote for not complaining:

“Learn the art of patience. Apply discipline to your thoughts when they become anxious over the outcome of a goal. Impatience breeds anxiety, fear, discouragement and failure. Patience creates confidence, decisiveness, and a rational outlook, which eventually leads to success.”

~ Brian Adams

I almost complained this morning and the day just started. In fact, I almost complained putting this post together about complaining. Here’s how I stopped myself: I waited to see if I could solve the problem before getting upset.

I don’t know if this will help you but it helped and has helped me on more than one occassion, today being one of them. Sometimes you have to just wait and see what happens. I literally tell myself: “OK, let me try and do this real quick and then I’ll panic.” Well, it works because I usually figure it out and by then the moment has passed.

I came home from out of town one day and couldn’t find an important USB with work on it to which I had not backed up. Worst case scenario is that I’d lost some critical documents. But I decided this day that I didn’t feel like worrying about it (worrying drains your energy too!) so I literally put off looking for a few days.

On the day I decided I needed to find it, I thought about where I seen it last before I panicked. It worked. I found it.

Today, have a little patience. Wait it out and see what happens.

Endurance

Black woman sitting with eyes closed outdoors

Endurance, the prominence, comes like a splashing dose of faith. Like scars praising the scarlet letters on my skin. As if strength poured forth from the sky and left its prophecies etched on the calcium of my bones. It’s courage far braver than purple hearts or bleeding pens on the white paper of a soldier’s goodbye. Like a car accident that knocks me off my feet but does not kill me, I get it. Nineteen years later the irony of life and death finds itself a home in this house of poetry.