In my novel, Snake Walkers, the protagonist, thirteen-year old Anthony Andrews, witnesses a brutal hanging. The incident is never reported in the media. The young man vows to become a reporter, and a voice for the voiceless, so that their stories would be told.
It was about the same time in my life that I also witnessed a lynching, except that it was by writers who portrayed black people solely as violent, ignorant and unworthy. Like the Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, who could never rise above the preconceived intellectual, and moral boundaries established by his master, the subjects of these writers were destined to physical, mental, or spiritual enslavement.
As a young person who constantly read, I frequently wondered why the majority of books I found were of black males and females being demeaned, maimed, raped or killed. There were few books about black men and women whose wisdom, strength and fortitude enabled them to persevere. I knew that there were people like that because I grew up with them. Why were there so few stories?
Like Anthony, I promised that at some point in my life, I would be a voice for the voiceless. The stories I would write would be of our ancestors’ triumphs not their tragedies. The stories I would write would be of our ancestor’s victories, even though their rights were constantly being challenged and their lives constantly threatened. Like the Griots of West Africa, I would write to honor those who had passed, to share their achievements with those living today, and with those who would come to us in the future. I would write for those who might see themselves only through the distorted, yellowed lenses that other writers so often used. I would write so that young men and women would know that intelligent, strong black people who existed in abundance in our history, even though they may not have been seen on TV, heard on the radio, or read about in papers and books.
I write to bring balance in the portrayal of a people. I write because the power of the word can make even the most optimistic people who continuously see themselves in a negative light, act out that negativity. It can also make others outside of the race perceive them from that same skewed perspective.
I write to honor our past because there are so many stories of accomplishment that have yet to be written. There is an African saying, “Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” I write because I choose to be a historian for the lions.