01/01/2013 07:38 pm ET Updated Mar 03, 2013

Paying It Forward

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.

This is a letter to recently emancipated ancestors.

I am writing to express to you my sincere gratitude for your steadfast commitment to future generations. The pain and sacrifice, the indignities and persecution you endured to confront man's inhumanity to man has made it possible for succeeding generations to take their rightful place as citizens of our great nation.

One hundred and fifty years have passed since President Lincoln's historic signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. As people of African descent, we have made great strides. We are full participants in the governance of our communities and indeed our nation. We have even lived to see a person of African descent become twice elected to serve our nation as President. In the 113th Congress, forty-two African-Americans, including myself, will serve in the House and one in the Senate. We continue to confront injustice and discrimination wherever we encounter it. The fight for socioeconomic justice and the right to quality education continues, yet we can still count our blessings for all that has been accomplished not withstanding these challenges.

As in preceding generations, your expectations of our success, of living in a nation where our contributions are valued and where we stand as equals to all people is being realized; however much more can be done to expand upon this success. It is important to future generations that we remain focused on creating opportunities for education and advancement, that we create safe and healthy communities for them to inherit, and that we create more leadership that reflects the value we hold for all that you endured to make a life of dignity possible for people of African descent in the Americas and around the world.

In closing, know that your sacrifices were not made in vain. We have learned that freedom is not free; it comes at an extremely dear price. We continue to pay that price everyday and do so with the knowledge that you made it possible by paying it forward.

Most respectfully,

Yvette D. Clarke

Member of Congress