Trailing endless miles to my mother’s hometown of South Carolina, brought back cherished memories of my childhood. It was a road trip my family and I had long anticipated as we were attending the birthday celebration for my mother’s oldest sister. Within miles of the Timmonsville Township, we (my mother, sister, and niece) looked on in awe as we swept past large stretches of fertile land, farms, cotton fields and opulent estates reminiscent of plantations during colonial slavery.
The celebration felt more like a reunion, as there were relatives present that we had not seen in years. Our former estrangement was forgiven instantly and the introductions were soul-stirring, but the unfamiliarity of my first and second cousins’ children was disheartening. As we reminisced I noticed that some of them tuned into their electronic devices, seemingly oblivious to the significance of the moment. While it is true that self-absorbed socialism has become a way of life in the digital age; I realized that turning to social media was easier than confronting the awkwardness of conversing with strangers.
Ironic how my mother—who is the youngest of 13 children migrated to New York as a young adult—managed to maintain the familial bond with her siblings and their offspring. On her meager earnings, my go-getting mom arranged trips for my sister and I to visit South Carolina during summer vacation where we basked in the comfort of southern tradition. Cultural enlightenment reciprocated as aunts and cousins made their way to New York, and boy, those were fun times. Here we are today, first and second generation college graduates and recipients of master and doctoral degrees with technology at our fingertips; yet, we have willingly become estranged.
So we primped and posed for photos, spoke inspiring words in the spotlight of video cameras amidst a buffet of southern cuisine to absolutely die for. Then, the moment presented itself where I could express my sentiments brewing inside. “We dropped the ball,” I fervently voiced, referring to the growing disconnection. “What is it going to take? Two relatives getting married and we meet again by chance at their wedding to make us realize the significance of our detachment?” Family members all kind of chuckled at the possibility, but a nerve was collectively struck, I could tell. “Look, 25 states have banned consanguinity (that’s intermarriage), that’s how bad it is,” I added, “and I suspect a good number of those unions occurred unknowingly.”
We joyfully reminisced over the next few days and reflected over the situation. Thankfully, we agreed that each of us shares in the responsibility to keep the family network intact. We parted with a promise to reach out on social media, acknowledge birthdays and special occasions, accomplishments and successes, donate and support whenever possible, start a family scholarship fund and open our homes to family members visiting our home cities.
Call on our young men for muscle, intellectual and business opportunities, as well our young women to platforms with which to use their skill sets to expand toward their goals. Giving time and special treatment to our elders, we agreed, is an engagement required of each one of us. Evaluating our efforts should take place at a mandatory annual weekend event where we all come together to bond.
Returning to the birthplace where it all began, was the ideal opportunity to revisit the trials of our ancestors who had the arduous task of keeping the family whole. Ripped out of wombs and forcibly separated at the hands of demonic slave masters, our forefathers had no recourse. In spite of it, they endured and never gave up the fight to be emancipated so that future generations could live and love freely. The torch now rests in our hands. Can’t wait to see them all next year!
BEAUTIFUL story! I felt I was there… in every moment … wow! Thanks for sharing!
Jennifer Burton, you are a wonderful #storyteller
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