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African-Americans: Still Many Rivers to Cross?

I am currently one of the youth bloggers for the Chicago Urban League, and you can read my film review below or check it out on the Chicago Urban League’s website at

Black History Month Film Fest

Who am I? Is one of the many questions I walked away with exiting the Chicago Urban League’s building after viewing the film Many Rivers to Cross: 500 Years of African American History (Part I).This film took 500 years of History with hopes to share the history of the African American people and their journey to the Americas–which ultimately forced them into centuries of slavery.

THe African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross PBS Series

The film starts off with the history of slavery, which in fact dates back to many of the earliest civilizations. However, over time, the definition of being enslaved and enslaving others experienced a massive shift. To certain groups, like the African Chiefs and warriors, slavery was another form of indentured servitude. However, the Europeans began to reconstruct the definition of slavery, shifting it into a systematic mean of oppression, and ultimately vowing to use race as an indication of who can be slaves and who cannot. This system hoped to strip African-American individuals of their identity, culture, and genealogy, creating a dehumanizing definition of slavery.

The panel discussion, which I was elated to be a part of, occurred after the film and was probably the most powerful part of the night. Community Activist, Toussaint Werner, shed some light on the importance of paying attention to the context of the things we read, learn, and view in the media. The image the media creates for us, through songs, movies, and more, ultimately shapes the lens that we as African-Americans view ourselves. He recommended that we “strip ourselves of what we think we are, to allow ourselves to become who we wish to be”. This would stop us from validating ourselves through the lens of others, and allow us to start putting things in context and become more self-aware in a cultural sense. He challenged us to understand the meaning of white supremacy, because “until you understand racism, white supremacy, and the depths of the system that oppresses, everything that you think you understand will confuse you.” The discussion among the panelists was incredibly powerful, but the added audience comments amplified the power of the discussion.

A few Project Ready high school students shared their opinions in this discussion. When asked how might we (as a community) solve this problem of a lack of identity, one student responded that we should “come together as a community,” ultimately providing an environment where individuals can become more conscious of the world surrounding them, and conscious of their cultural identity. In this discussion, I was reminded of W.E.B. Dubois’ theory on the Talented Tenth, which challenges those who are educated to come back to their communities and create opportunities. We also talked about how supporting other African-Americans correlates to the communal relationship and the identity individuals create for themselves.

After watching such a powerful film, I discovered more about my history as a young African-American woman. I was challenged to consider the context of everything that I learn and hear. This discussion ultimately moved me closer to discovering my life vision– to provide a more culturally conscious community for black people through platforms like fashion, business, music, service, and other amazing opportunities and to ensure that I fulfill my duties as an individual of the Talented Tenth.

All in all, this film is something that you should consider watching! I would also challenge you to read The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. Do some more research on W.E.B Dubois’ Talented 10th philosophy. Discover more about your heritage, delve into the depths of your cultural history, but be sure to pay attention to the context of the content, so that you can create your own perception of your history. Lastly, I would challenge you to support all aspects of being black. Take aggressive control of your identity, support your local black businesses, support other black people, and flaunt the beauty of being a person of color! I encourage you to watch this film, and consider my previous suggestions, so that you can embark on your cultural journey of rediscovering your identity.

​Just something for us all to think about!

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