Recently, during a conversation about the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, someone stated that we must move as quickly as possible to conduct memorial services for our ancestors and place markers at Middle Passage port sites, or their relevance will be lost for future generations. In 2013, many states will mark the 150th year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which President Abraham Lincoln signed, legally releasing all enslaved people in the United States from bondage. That occurred almost two centuries ago, for some families three or more generations past. If we do not formally mark this history and put it in context within this 21st century, Americans and most of the world will view it as too far removed and therefore irrelevant, useless. It is an urgent issue.

The practice over hundreds of years of denying a people’s humanity, placing high value on material wealth and success, deliberately eliminating or ignoring historical fact, contradicting and negating national ideals, and rationalizing oppression and exclusion are ingrained in the development of the Western hemisphere. Reviewing only the last two years of current events, we realize that a knowledge of the past aids in understanding the present. The concerted effort by certain groups for voter identification is a variation on the theme of poll taxing and Jim Crow; the denial of enfranchisement to ex-offenders is another example. The persistent labeling of people and assigning negative value – “non- or un-Christian,” “illegal alien,” “poor,” “uneducated,” etc. – serves the purpose of exclusion and devaluing. Those whose ancestors were enslaved, whose families have struggled to survive in spite of no guaranteed protections under law, who seek to learn the stories of all people in this nation could say repeatedly at every instance, “We saw this coming down the road,” and “We’ve seen this before – old wine, new bottle.”

In many ways this project is a portal that provides an opportunity to remember, share, connect, and learn. By doing this, we can act more effectively for our personal and mutual benefit. In honoring ancestors and marking their place of entry we acknowledge who they were and the important role our families and communities played in developing this hemisphere as it exists today. We act on the value of family and shared history and understand how important it is to challenge a mind set that supports policies of “Manifest Destiny,” “Take the Country Back,” “Stand Your Ground.”

The time is now. Let us examine the full history. This project is a step in that direction. We all have to find common ground. No matter our origins or experiences we have to operate in a manner that affirms humanity. We are part of a family, community, nation, and world.

Our ancestors did not become Africans until they landed on American or European shores. Before that, they were a diverse people – Akan, Ibo, Ewe, Mandigo, Bamilike, Fon, Dan, Mende, Poro, Wolof, Kongo, Dogon, Masai, Dinka, Yoruba. When they stepped off those ships having lived through the terrible Middle Passage they were African slaves by definition of the controlling benefactors. They did not view themselves as that, and over the centuries their descendants became and created what would become known throughout the world as Cuban, Jamaican, Brazilian, Columbian, Mexican, American, etc. We all need to know this and begin to acknowledge the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors. It is now or never, lest we forget.