Men and Women of Movements: Sea Island Reflections of Self-Determination by Queen Quet

As I rose today, I turned on the TV and as I scrolled through what I could tune into seeking to see only something of inspiration, I saw “Men of Honor.”  I had seen this film on its opening day like I have seen thousands of films that show the struggles and triumphs of people of African descent over my lifetime.  I briefly recalled the central story of the film, but spiritually, I had done what I have to do as a historian and not hold on to the visualization of the horrific trials and brutality that my people have been through.  It is still with me in my heart and in my soul, but I cannot continue to see it in my mind daily because one would not be able to remain sane doing so.  Therefore, GOD has Divinely Blessed me to read and see images of blood spilling and pain and take these in as they speak to me from a collective consciousness of my elders and ancestors that went through these things before me.   I need only see the images in my mind again when it is necessary to have a visual image that can somehow now be applied in a manner that will help this generation to move forward and to progress as they did.   As the Great Orator Frederick Douglass taught, “Man’s greatness consists in his ability to do and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done.” 

The pain, the triumph, and the intellect of Frederick Douglass has inspired me since I was a child in kindergarten as did the mother wit of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.  I am thankful to have known their words and their life stories as a young child and to have been able to apply those to my life.  I am thankful to have seen the images painted of them and to know that they looked like me and that no matter how hard my life may have felt at times, they had been through harder times.  Through those harder times, they still found a way.

As I sat rewatching “Men of Honor” today it was like watching a new film since it had been so long since I originally saw it.  As I watched them attempt to kill Carl Brashear who the movie is based on, I began to have many images emerge from where they are kept in my soul and I could see various adaptations of the torture chamber that have been used to attempt to control people of African descent in America from the time of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade to the current prison industrial complex era.   I prayed at that moment like I pray every time GOD sends me into an arena to stand up and to speak out for my own people who are often terrified to speak out because they are well aware that these torture and “breaking” tactics still exist.  Many of them have told me how they fear for me, but the best of them have told me how they pray for me and they have shown me how they stand by and support me.   Yet, Carl Brashear in this scene had to stand alone.

He was standing alone on the bottom of the sea trying to put together an item that required screws and washers and other things that should have been sent to him in a fully functioning tool bag, but instead had been inappropriately thrown into the water in an intentionally cut tool bag and he had to fend for himself to find the tools he needed and the parts and to put this item together while wearing a suit that weighed almost twice as much as he did as he stood at the bottom of the sea.   In many ways, I feel that it was our ancestors spirits with him at the bottom of the sea.  These were those that had been thrown overboard and had not chosen to be fitted for a suit that would allow them to walk around down there like the one Carl Barshear was fitted for.  As the ones above water, plotted and planned to allow him to suffer, freeze, and die and then pull his dead Black body up, GOD warmed him and continued to sharpen his vision.  Those ancestral spirits that walk the ground beneath the water since they were thrown over board in the Middle Passage came to him and guided his hands to the places where the tools and the parts where.  They held his hands as they shook and made each piece come together.

These ancestors have held the hands of the women and men of movements that advanced the causes of people of African descent whenever our hands got ready to shake.  They placed our hands back into “God’s unchanging hand” and we were able to be quickened to go on, to complete what our spirits were charged to do, to march on when the group was present, and to walk on even when we appeared to walk alone.  Tenk GAWD, we ain wak een vain!

As I prayed and watched, I recalled a conversation I just had with my mother yesterday regarding the fact that anything you want, you have to work for it.  I recalled the many times that I heard her say, “It ain’t easy!”   Yet, I do not recall ever seeing her stop.  She still has not stopped.  What a disservice it would be to stop in front of her or any of the other women that has stood up and kept on moving.  Even if they prayed, hummed and sang as they did, they kept on moving.

Continuing to know where and how to move next often requires having the opportunity to gaze into the eyes and see the souls of those that had moved before us.   That is why Sankofa is a critical part of my journey-gwine bak fa kno how fa gwine een de fucha.   The people that I commune with are generally in their eighties, nineties, and hundreds because it is with them that I find I have a great deal in common.  They often begin conversations with me with “You memba when we…”  I often do not remind them that I didn’t go to school with them because my soul did.   I just smile and I listen to what it is that they are asking if I remembered and more oft than not, I actually do remember.   I am thankful to them for giving me more and more to remember of what our people have been through so that I can appreciate where GOD is showing me that our people can and must go.

As I sat with my mother who had been part of meetings with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to our home island of St. Helena and we watched the new film, “Selma” on its opening day, I KNEW that this would be one of the days that I would remember for the rest of my life.  I had taken her to Civil Rights museums before and she wasn’t keen on looking at too many of the exhibits and I realized that they brought up painful memories.  However, as time went on, she started to talk about what to me were powerful memories of her involvement in what is now deemed the “Civil Rights Movement.”  So, when I watched the film, I also was thinking of her recollections that she had shared with me over these more recent years.  Then I heard on screen “WE CAN DO THIS!”  I said, “YES!  WE CAN and WE MUST!”   I was having a soul conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not simply having the stereotypical Black film watching experience of responding to the screen.  I was responding and affirming my response to the call to action for self-determination which had also been mentioned in the film.  I prayed that others would not simply enter this space see this and walk out claiming to have seen another “good movie.”  I prayed that they heard and would now respond to this call that was made 50 years ago-WE CAN DO THIS!  WE CAN BE SELF-DETERMINED!  WE CAN BE FREE!

My mother and I talked on our ride from the theater in Beaufort to a place of Civil Rights-Savannah, GA and back to St. Helena Island about the need for ALL people to see the film “Selma” and to realize that things that folks have today have not been come by easily.  We talked about how this vicious repeat of people being killed in the streets by police will not be stopped easily.   We talked about how peoples’ blood should not be spilled in vain and how it is time out for foolishness.  It is time to stand up!  It is time to work together!  It is time for true equality!  It is time to have permanent change for the better!

I can only see what we spoke about happening if like those ancestral spirits did, we helped to work with one another to complete a job and help raise one another up instead of being the ones to throw each other overboard and wait until the bodies float on top of the water to insure we were dead.   If there ever was a time for people of African descent and in particular for me, Gullah/Geechees, to come together and stand as men and women of honor and to be part of ONE movement for the human rights of all, it is now.  WE CAN DO THIS!   It is all as individual a decision as self-determination is when one man or woman decides to step forth to make a positive difference to support things that will benefit all of humanity and not just themselves individually even if they get tired or face obstacles along the way as the people in “Men of Honor” and “Selma” did.

As you take the initial individual stand, you would be surprised how many shoulders you would bump as others that also have the mind for freedom and the mind for self-determination stand up also.  It is as if, we have all Divinely been enlightened at the same moment and became quickened to put our lives on the line as we move to make demands.   As the Great Orator Frederick Douglass made clear, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never has and it never will.”   To make a demand, you have to have the will to do so.  I am thankful to all those that came before me and had that will!  I am thankful to GOD for giving me the will!  As painful as the journey can be, I know WE CAN DO THIS!  I know WE CAN BE FREE!  WE HAVE A RIGHT TO BE FREE!  Tenk Gawd fa de self-determination at the bottom of the water rising to the shorelines of the Gullah/Geechee Nation!

Queen Quet Leading the Way

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation ( leading the way.


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