400 years ago, my ancestors were kidnapped from their homes. Not only was there fear from their original captors, the Spanish, but they were then seized by a Dutch warship and brought to an unknown land. They were sold as property and worked until they collapsed. Considered as nothing more than animals, the process of being abducted and shipped in harsh conditions and forced to work with no pay, no family, and no rest continued on until the Civil War. After the freedom of my own family was finally granted, they were not free. They were beaten and killed just because of the color of their skin. They were told that they were not equals and had to work twice as hard as anyone else did in order to be treated half as well. The Civil Rights movement fought to try to equalize this. People marched, sat in, and died in order to give children like me the ability to grow.
My family has been residents of the state of Virginia since before the Civil War. My grandfather joined the navy and fought in order to give his family a better chance at life. My mother was the first person in her family to graduate from college. Through the work of my family, I have a better chance of being seen for more than the color of my skin or the fact that I am a girl.
When I was in preschool, I was able to read and do math at a 3rd grade level. Not to brag, but I was the smartest kid in my class. There was a little boy in my class that told me that I had no reason to worry about my future, because I could “always grow up to be his slave”. The little boy then talked about how my skin looked like mud and my hair looked like snakes. I didn’t know what that meant, but when I told my mom and my teacher, they both cried. My mom then pulled out one of my Bible stories and read the description of Jesus. She then read, Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As a little child even I know that we should all be equal. That no one should be made to feel bad or different because of what they look like.
The state of Virginia has so much history, beauty, and diversity. There have been many debates about slavery, statues, black face, civil rights, and civil war. We need to acknowledge all of these, not as a form of hatred, but as a lesson. We need to learn and we need to teach generations of children and some adults that these things can hurt. That kindness can be restored by reaching out to each other. If we learn from these monuments as a representation of Virginia and world history then we are less likely to repeat. We shouldn’t live looking behind us, but sometimes you have to glance backwards in order to know the paths we need to travel.
As we continue to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, we have to look in all directions. Everything we do has been built by them. We can either choose to live in the past and be hurt and scared like those kidnapped in 1619, or we can work on continuing to grow into stronger people and members of society instead of stereotypes of what others believe we should be. I, for one, will be a strong, educated, black woman, who is a contributing member of American society because of what many generations have worked for me to be able to achieve. I am the reality of their dreams for the future.
In partnership with the Richmond Peace Education Center’s annual essay contest, this article was written by Gloria Amado, a 10-year-old with a love for science, math, social studies and a future career goal of becoming a biochemist.