“Rivers of my fathers would you carry me home?….Please carry me home!”
As I listened to Gil Scott-Heron’s soul emitted in the words of “Rivers of My Fathers” over the years, my spirit always came to a place of peace. Brian Jackson’s refrains seemed to be the waves that washed out the pains of how my forefathers and foremothers traversed their way from the rivers of the ultimate Mother of Us All manifested on earth as the Motherland and landed themselves on Sea Island sand. It was as if the birthing canal had the water break for the baby to arrive in the hands of a Sea Island midwife that would now usher this new life into the community. Yeah, disya da de compound whey webe.
As we traveled northward for education and jobs, we didn’t stop to consider those traveling southward to again see what was there. Nor did we think that our coast would now be robbed. The rivers could not take us too far and we ended up on the street. This place does not flow because it is asphalt and concrete.
“I’m looking for a way out of this confusion…Let me lay down by a stream somewhere miles from everything and rivers of my fathers, would you carry me home?”
Home is where the heart or the hatred is depending on who you ask. I have experienced both at different times. Aaah, but when the heart is filled with love, that is the place and the space in which I flow, just like and syncopated with the rivers. This is the place that I have fought to hold on to and to show to the world so that they too would know that there is a place in which people live in balance with the land. Yes, all along the Sea Island sand!
I danced to “Rivers of My Fathers” not knowing that this would be a ritual that would forever have me imbued with the energy that kept me inextricably tied not just to the land, but to the sea. De wata da wi bloodline an de land da wi famlee een de nayshun a de Gullah/Geechee.
At the Divinely appointed time, I took yet another journey to more concrete to learn from the Environmental Protection Agency to only find that they had learned a great deal about me! At that time, I had no idea that they would want to journey back to these rivers of my fathers to share with my community how to further protect the land and the sea. I gave thanks and appreciated this energy.
I thought of how just a week before they arrived along the coast of my home county, I sat in Charleston listening to Brother Bill Saunders speak of what they fought for in the sixties and what destroyed the communities and further polluted the minds of the people as the disenfranchisement of integration set in. I asked him how did he think things were 40 years later and he said, “Worse!” I contemplated that word as we sat surrounded by the concrete streets of Charleston where just across town are brownsfields and “superfund sites” where this translates to no fields being planted which causes food deserts and where the people are financially impoverished and no funding flows into the sites of that are their neighborhoods. Yet, this is what is done to environmentally protect the people? I could now understand the meaning of the word that this elder chose!
So, when I sat in Beaufort County at our environmental justice meeting and could do an exercise of survival my mind went back to the week before and the things that we lose when we no longer have access to the rivers of our father and our mother. For this exercise, I sat at the table of Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association members and we told them at the beginning that we could handle this exercise for sure. When the numbers of all the tables were presented, our table had the score showing we would be the most likely to survive in the crisis. I gave thanks yet again. The rivers of my fathers had again carried me home!
I brought the Gullah/Geechee family and our partners, collaborators, and supporters together on Hunting Island to discuss coastal cultures and how in particular we would continue our culture on this coast. There we stood on and practically in the rivers of my fathers. As a young brother that is carrying on the traditional trap making stood there and spoke, he could have simply sung the words “Got to change my way of living! Got to change my style!” as he described how people treated him in other states when he spoke and how here, along the rivers of our fathers and amidst his own people, he could just be. Gullah/Geechee da who webe! In these rivers of my fathers and mothers is where we find healing and where we can truly begin to see. So, may the flow of the rivers of my fathers and mothers forever be!