Dr. Kaye Whitehead

By Dr. Kaye Whitehead

In 1967, in a speech at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked the students, “What is in your life’s blueprint?” He told them that the decisions they made on that day would determine how they would go forward and how we (as a community) would go forward. You, he explained, must decide on your blueprint, but it must be built on the work that others had done before you and must be able to be used by those who would come after you. My father would say something similar whenever I began to lose my way. He would sit me down and remind me that my life was meant to answer a question the world had been asking and waiting for me to answer. He would then tell me that his job was to spark my genius, set me on fire and then set me loose into the world so that my life would provide that answer. What are you seeking at this moment? Who are you supposed to be? What is the question that you are trying to answer? I wonder, in these moments, as I look around at the flames that are being extinguished in the hearts of the young people in this city, whether their genius is being sparked; whether they are being told that they are the ones that we have been waiting for; whether they being challenged to be the answer to the questions that we hold in our heart? I wonder quite simply if Baltimore is failing its children. 

In 1963, after the murder of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Nina Simone, in an act of rage, resistance and grief, wrote, “Alabama’s gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.” Someone said that at that moment, she weaponized music. As I look around Baltimore City, after recording 40 homicides in the first 38 days of 2022 and after ending 2021 with 300+ murders for seven years in a row, I know exactly how she felt and what she meant. Baltimore Gotdam, hold your hat because here we go again. Violence on top of violence on top of violence. We are amid a racial and economic weathering. We are dealing with the result of years of injustice, underdevelopment and miseducation. We are reaping what was sown by the seeds of White supremacy in this city. We are shadows walking through the haunted remains of someone else’s dreams for our reality. And it hurts. It hurts like hell. Last year, I walked around with questions, about freedom and justice; salvation and sacrifice; violence and pain; love and survival, in 2022, I want answers. We are at the moment, when our sheroes and heroes are dying, while people who are committed to eating us alive have both gained and remained in power. These are indeed the worst of times, but we must cry out like those who have before us. We must protest. We must push back. We must love our children, believe in them, and move them to write the blueprint, to be the answer, to be better. I know that we are exhausted, but when we are individually weak, we are collectively stronger. It is when we send up the prayers that the blessings come down. And in the spirit of my praying grandmothers and here in the midst of Black History Month: 

Today, I pray for freedom: remembering the heroes and sheroes of our country and our movement who fought and gave their lives so we may have and appreciate and enjoy and defend our freedom. I pray for justice: remembering the groups of people around the world who are not yet free and who do not yet have justice but continue to struggle for their freedom. I pray for your tongue: remembering the age-old adage that they cut out our tongues to deny us the place to speak, so we sang from our souls and with our entire being. I pray for Baltimore: remembering that we are all connected. We are all related that as we move forward, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, those who died for us, those who struggle with us, and we are the shoulders for those who are coming next, the ones that we hope will save us. And finally, I pray for you: urging you to remember to pray for yourself. Pray for what you feel holds you back and ties you down. And then take a moment and pray for what sets you free, remembering that no matter how you define freedom, to get to the other side, we must pull up our anchors, fix our eye on something that we only see in our dreams, and believe that despite what they tell us no matter how they limit us, our faith/our talents/our voices/our strength will set us free and keep us on course.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (todaywithdrkaye@gmail.com; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the Founding Director of The Karson Institute for Race, Peace, & Social Justice at Loyola University Maryland and the 2021 Edward R. Murrow Regional Award- winning radio host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM. She is the president of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA,) and lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their dog, BellaReds.

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