It always seems as if the tragedies of black Americans—instead of our triumphs—remain center stage in the media.
Discussions of our history focus on the tragedies of slavery, but seldom mention the ancient African civilizations ruling the world by the power of their wealth, intelligence, and strength.
Archaeological studies of these civilizations have produced breakthrough discoveries and facts that somehow never reach the dinner table in black American homes.
Media stories about present-day black America often remind us of a traumatic past, highlighting criminal activity and confrontations with law enforcement. Where are the stories about the countless number of black Americans keeping our communities safe or about those who have risen above tragedy to lead successful lives today?
I have always been intrigued by the stories of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and several other communities where black Americans from our past thrived during some of the most racially divided and tumultuous times of our history.
I also appreciate the common stories about black leaders during the civil rights era. But what we don’t hear in the media are stories like this: In the late 1800s, long before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, black Americans were elected members of Congress.
The list of black American triumphs is lengthy, but allow me to share a short list of people who are noteworthy for defying the odds.
Frederick Douglass not only escaped slavery but also taught himself—and others—to read and write. He became a national leader in the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York.
His speeches and anti-slavery writings are still read and cited to this day. His leadership earned him the opportunity to meet President Abraham Lincoln, which should remind us that the federal government exists to preserve life, liberty, and property and is instituted to protect the rights of all individuals.
Mary McLeod Bethune, a daughter of former slaves, became a nationally known educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil and women’s rights leader. Her passion for public service and education led her to serve as adviser to five U.S. presidents and to chair President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet.”
Later, she founded and led several organizations and an HBCU in Florida. Her outstanding leadership and influence in education and throughout the public sector showed that individuals and families can dramatically improve not just their own lives, but the well-being of entire communities.
Just weeks ago, Winsome Sears became the first black woman to be elected lieutenant governor of Virginia. A former U.S. Marine, businesswoman, and member of the Virginia General Assembly, Sears rode into office advocating better pay for teachers and law enforcement, lower taxes, and more care centers for veterans.
Her commitment to creating a Black Virginians Advisory Cabinet for the Governor and a “once-in-a-generation investment” into historically black colleges and universities demonstrate her belief in the words of Thomas Jefferson: “The government closest to the people serves the people best.”
Mark Robinson, an American politician, grew up poor. He was placed in the foster care system due to a father who was an abusive alcoholic. After graduating high school, he joined the Army reserves and attended North Carolina A&T University. Thanks to social media, Robinson became widely known for standing up against the Greensboro City Council to advocate for the Second Amendment gun rights for law-abiding citizens.
Later, he became the first African American lieutenant governor of North Carolina, where he works to protect the sanctity of life and the freedom of speech, religion, the press, and assembly. The right to bear arms and a right of individuals to be treated equally and justly under the law will also remain at the forefront of his legacy.
The legacy of black Americans is rooted in a story of excellence and contribution. Stories like these celebrate and bolster the accomplishments, achievements, and contributions of black Americans. Ours is the profound, difficult, and ultimately triumphal history of helping build a nation of freedom and prosperity.
The narrative of challenge and triumph must be passed to our children and future generations because it provides them with a clearer focus on the strength and resilience of black Americans rising from a tragic past to a place of triumph and victory despite our valley experiences.
We live in the greatest nation known to humanity. We have the freedom to tell our own story, and it is the responsibility of current and future generations to do so.
This piece originally appeared in MSN News