THE BLOG

The Wind at Our Backs: A Legacy Pushing Us Forward

01/01/2013 09:16 am ET | Updated Mar 03, 2013

This letter is part of our "Letters to Our Ancestors" project. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we've asked members of our community to share their own letters to our forefathers. With these letters, we hope to look back on the progress our community has made and give thanks to those who helped pave the way. You can see them all here.

"Along the way, there have been many challenges, but you have been the wind at our backs. You have been the constant reminder that ours is a necessary fight for freedom and a future without prejudice. And your memory continues to strengthen our pursuit of an even brighter tomorrow."

Faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, you forged a new path forward. You pursued an America where all people would be treated as equals - an America where race would not predetermine a person's worth. Your sacrifices led us to this day, and the celebration that 150 years ago, limitless possibilities were set in motion for all people of color. The enormity of your influence has defined every step of our collective journey.

Your faith led 186,000 black soldiers to fight in the Civil War for a nation that barely recognized their personhood. They bled and died not for what the Union was, but for what it could be. In their courage and service, we saw the possibility of a nation where patriotism could run deeper than race. Nearly a century later, the Tuskegee Airmen and Montford Point Marines would call upon that courage in their pursuit of a fully desegregated national military.

Your example gave us the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's, a time where the national consciousness turned to our proud history and vibrant culture. Your creativity gave way to the Louis Armstrongs, the Langston Hughes, and the Zora Neale Hurstons who provided a window into our often misunderstood world.

Your resilience was a catalyst as leaders sought desegregation in our schools. It gave us strength to endure the vitriol and hate. It gave us patience and an understanding that the arc of the moral universe would bend toward justice. And as the Supreme Court handed down its historic decision in 1954, our tears of joy reflected the decades of perseverance you embody.

Your legacy guided us as we marched on Washington and as Dr. King spoke of a Dream that would define a generation. His impassioned words -- in a rhythm, centuries old -- took us to the heights of the mountain tops. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act -- the most sweeping steps towards racial equality in our nation's history -- it was your blood, sweat and tears that galvanized the movement.

Through the sit-ins, the marches, the protests and the pain, we've seen the African-American community reach the heights of every industry and role of leadership in this country. In education, in government, in business, even in the White House -- we have secured our place in this nation. We are this nation.

Along the way, there have been many challenges, but you have been the wind at our backs. You have been the constant reminder that ours is a necessary fight for freedom and a future without prejudice. And your memory continues to strengthen our pursuit of an even brighter tomorrow.

Today, we are unshackled, but obstacles remain in our pursuit of equality. The leaders of today must evoke the courage and tenacity that defined your journey so many generations ago.

We face struggles in our schools as disparity in education places students from poorer, often minority communities at an immediate disadvantage to their more affluent peers. We must close this achievement gap.

We see a resurgence of those who would hope to stifle our voice, or silence it completely, with voter ID laws that keep us from the polls. We must ensure that every voice can be heard.
And while we see economic struggles persist for our brothers and sisters, we will pursue opportunities and an environment of prosperity for those who live today and those who are to follow.

These are solvable problems. Just as you created a path by which so much progress has been made, so shall we press on, ever mindful of the shoulders on which we stand.

The America of today, despite its challenges, is filled with possibilities for all those who call it home. Had it not been for you, though, we would have never achieved such greatness, nor would we ever approach the equality you sought.

For those of us who stand in your shadow, the work remains, and we will continue to pursue the America of which you dreamed more than a century ago.