Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

,

I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a multi-ethnic community–my friends actually spoke to their parents and grandparents in Greek and Italian. Sitting around in our playground when we were nine or ten years old, the conversation was about “What are you?” (I now know thanks to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that the correct question is “WHO are you?”) After listening to “I’m Irish; I’m Italian; I’m Greek; I’m Polish”–I went home and asked my Dad. Bless his Morehouse graduated heart, in the 1950s he took out a World Atlas, pointed to the West Coast of the continent of Africa and said, “We come from somewhere along in here.” We had an ancestor who lost a war and ended up being sold into slavery. When Daddy got through telling the story, however, I was convinced that I was hidden royalty. That belief sustained me in the face of some serious abuse and racial harassment in high school. I’ve learned a lot of history and culture since then but Daddy’s story telling helped me hold my head up and hope.

© 2013 WNET. All rights reserved.
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a film by Kunhardt McGee Productions, THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Inkwell Films, in assocation with Ark Media.