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My Dungeon Shook and the Chains Are Off

By Kevin Dedner, MPH

THE GOOD NEWS FOR YOU IS THAT you are growing up in an age of racial reckoning. America, and the world at large, is waking up to the pain that our family, and other families like us, have shouldered disproportionately for far too long. George Floyd’s murder at the knee of a Minnesota police officer accelerated this recognition. But it didn’t start with Floyd, or Ahmaud Arbery, or Breonna Taylor, may they rest in power. Eight years ago, some well-meaning people ignited this reckoning after Trayvon Martin, then again after Michael Brown, and again after Freddie Gray. Sixty-five years earlier in a bygone era of America’s racial history, a young, twenty-six-year-old minister, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered the sermon “Pride Versus Humility: The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta. It was a sermon that would set off a movement for civil rights following the murder of a young Black boy named Emmett Till at the hands of two white men.

     What I’m saying is that this reckoning has been a long time coming, and I am sure you feel it in your bones, but do you feel it in your minds? All change begins in the mind, which is why I constantly plead with you to watch your thoughts. Especially now. Now, as many of our white brothers and sisters wake up to the reality of our rightful place among the stars. Now, more than ever, you must prepare your minds.

     James Baldwin wrote, “If the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers [and sisters] to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.” Our family, and dare I say every Black family in America, knows intrinsically that racism impacts every aspect of life. It is the same knowing that drew me to Wolf in search of a truth that was buried deep in my marrow. It is a tacit knowledge that is being made explicit in the videos of anti-Black police brutality that go viral, the videos you know I vowed to never watch again after Martin’s murder shook me to my core. What I’m saying is that this knowledge of white supremacy’s pervasive and gross pull on life in America is slowly becoming ubiquitous. The inequity of our country is no longer a quiet-kept secret. It is a knowledge of the masses.

Out of the darkness

My Dungeon Shook, an essay by James Baldwin, was first published in 1962 in The Progressive. Written as a letter to Baldwin’s nephew, the essay commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. With a deep respect for Baldwin and his literary genius, Kevin offers his 2021 version of the letter in commemoration of this year’s Black History Month. 

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