MICHIGAN CITY — “We are our history.”
Angie Nelson-Deuitch quoted the late James Baldwin during her keynote speech at the 6th annual Black History Month Kickoff Brunch at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts on Saturday.
Still loosely quoting Baldwin, Deuitch continued, “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways. And history is literally present in all that we do – everything that we do.”
She talked about some of the “great strides and achievements” of black people in America, up to and including having the country’s first black president. And she wondered aloud what life might be like today if the country’s “unspeakable truths” had been brought to the forefront long ago.
“What if little girls – black, brown, yellow, white – knew about the impact women had with the NASA program and the launch to the moon as we learned in ‘Hidden Figures?’” Deuitch asked rhetorically.
“Think of how many engineers and astronauts we would have that are female today. I’m an electrical engineer, but I’m an anomaly as an electrical engineer by being female and being black.
“What if the educational system focused more on the rich culture and contributions of African-Americans throughout history and not the one-page, G-rated version narrative of the savage, barbaric and brutal conditions of slavery in America? What children and young adults see is what they sometimes believe.”
The problem, Deuitch said, is that people tend to seek out information that supports what they already believe, as opposed to supporting what the facts are.
“What we have failed to highlight is that regardless of systemic racism and discrimination and inequities, African-Americans, black people have risen up,” she said.
“The systemic racism I’m speaking of is still here today. I feel like things have been moving in the right direction, but the tone in America has swiftly taken a turn, stopped progress, and in some cases, reversed the positive wins of equity and equality.”
Her concern was less with individual people and more about systems.
“I am talking about the media, I’m talking about education, housing, health care, jobs, trades, etc.,” Deuitch said. “It’s so important to share the contributions of black people in books, music, art, television, activism, the list goes on. Black History isn’t just about MLK, Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights Movement, and now even the Obamas. It’s about all of the unsung heroes in our families that came before us.”
She reflected on the people who have helped her to become the person she is today – her family members, friends, educators and local pioneers who helped to advance the social status of black people and women in Michigan City.
“Heritage for me spans across 400 years, when the first Africans arrived in Jamestown in 1619 – 400 years ago,” Deuitch said. “Civil wars, world wars, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, my family, my extended supporters and Michigan City – that’s my heritage. That’s what it means to me. It’s who I am. On the flip side, I’m the legacy of everything and everyone I just talked about.”
And she reflected on her own legacy that she has worked to leave for her kids – not just those to whom she gave birth, but also those she has coached, led in Girl Scouts, helped get into college and influenced in other ways.
“All of these people are now my legacies,” she said. “… I put something within them.”
Deuitch quoted actress Viola Davis as having said, “It’s OK to strive to be successful. … But in your quest to leave a legacy, you should strive to be significant.”
And in closing, Deuitch asked her audience, “In the legacy you are creating, I want you to ask yourself, ‘Have I been significant in someone’s life?’”