For the past week, our amazing co-founder Parker and her family have been taking on their all-American cross-country road trip. As they hike, camp, and explore the great outdoors, in a way, they’re also time-traveling through U.S. history. Some stops are active timestamps, marking the distance between our past and present, as well as providing guidance and insight into a possible future. This week, our co-founder will be traveling back to Georgia and South Carolina to reconnect with their Gullah heritage.
The Gullah/Geechee people are descendants of enslaved Central and West Africans who were brought to the Sea Island plantations of the lower Atlantic coastline in the 1700s. Researchers designate the region from Sandy Island, SC, to Amelia Island, FL, as the Gullah Coast. However, the Gullah/Geechee are said to span as far north as the Virginia/North Carolina border. This unique culture has been linked to specific ethnic groups that are indigenous to West and Central Africa, bringing with them a rich heritage of cultural traditions.
The geography and climate of the southeastern coast often brought disease to captors and enslavers, especially as they introduced new enslaved Africans to shore. Research states that “West Africans were far more able to cope with the climatic conditions found in the South.” As a result, some islands were completely left to the care and management of enslaved Gullah/Geechee people. This isolation brought a sense of relative autonomy to the enslaved people of the region, allowing them to retain much of their African heritage and, subsequently, develop a new, beautiful Gullah/Geechee culture.
According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “Gullah” is the accepted name of the islanders in South Carolina, while “Geechee” refers to the islanders of Georgia. Anthropologists and historians speculate that both “Gullah” and “Geechee” are borrowed words from a number of ethnic groups such as the Gola, Kissi, Mende, Temne, Twi, and Vai peoples, all of which contributed to the subsequent “creolization” of the southeastern coastal culture in the U.S. The Gullah/Geechee also developed their own language, a form of creole mixed with the languages of West and Central African ethnic groups, as well as from their enslavers. According to the Gullah/Geechee Corridor, the Gullah/Geechee language is the only African creole language in the U.S. and has since deeply influenced Southern vernacular.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of Gullah/Geechee remain in these marshlands and coastal islands doesn’t mean that they didn’t attempt to escape enslavement. Between the American Revolution and the Reconstruction Era, thousands of enslaved laborers from the Gullah/Geechee region gained their freedom by escaping to Nova Scotia. Self-emancipated Africans who were once harbored by the Spanish formed an alliance with Native American refugees in Florida,forming the Seminole Nation. Parker shares a story that her family told her about their great-great-grandmother and father (who was a baby at the time) who were being pursued by slave catchers. She talks about how the group was so afraid of being captured and taken back that they suggested killing the crying baby to avoid getting caught. Her family determined that if they killed the baby, the mother wouldn’t have survived. Instead, she sat under a bush, nursing the baby and trying to keep quiet until danger passed. There’s a huge possibility that our co-founder Parker might not be here had their elders gone through with this suggestion. This is not a statement of “pro-life,” however; this is a powerful testament to the terror of chattel slavery and the grave cost of the pursuit of freedom.
Though originally brought as slaves to what is now part of the Gullah/Geechee region, Parker’s family has lived on James Island in South Carolina for hundreds of years. As she reconnects with her Gullah heritage, we keep in mind that many of the beliefs that substantiated the mass genocide of Indigenous peoples of the First Nations and the trans-Atlantic slave trade are the foundation of socioeconomic structures today. In order to truly change the world as we know it, we must take this knowledge with us and act. Stand up for Black and Indigenous rights in your own communities. Support legislation to tackle discrimination at the highest level. Donate to nonprofits and other groups trying to make a difference.
One small way you can help is by supporting Inclusive Guide and the work we’re doing to address systemic racism and, more specifically, discrimination against Black and Indigenous communities. Using the Guide itself is a step in the right direction, but if you have the resources, we encourage you to contribute to our GoFundMe campaign so that we may continue the work of racial justice: https://www.gofundme.com/f/digital-green-book-website.
Follow us on Twitter @InclusiveGuide, Instagram @inclusiveguide, and Facebook @InclusiveJourneys to stay up to date with Parker’s Liberation Tour across the South and Midwest. You’ll also want to follow along to catch more educational posts and insights like this about Southern and Midwestern history.
Sumpter, Althea. "Geechee and Gullah Culture." New Georgia Encyclopedia, 31 March 2006, https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/geechee-and-gullah-culture/.
Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.” Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, https://gullahgeecheecorridor.org/thegullahgeechee/.
Powel, Aisha, and The Black Detour Team. “African History You Should Know: Gullah-Geechee Nation - The Black Detour.” The Black Detour - Black Culture Unfiltered, 25 Jan. 2019, https://theblackdetour.com/african-history-you-should-know-gullah-geechee-nation/.
We, along with our newest team member, Kitt, were on the phone together watching the verdict come in live. I held my phone up to the tv so we could all listen together. The first verdict came in, and all I could hear was a sharp exhale. It came from me. Then the second guilty verdict. My shoulders released. And the third. Another guilty. Another exhale.
But we can not simply exhale right now, for this is not the end. I’m just as concerned about this guilty verdict as I would have been upon hearing ‘not-guilty’. It seems like something that should feel good, but it doesn’t. I still feel sad and empty and scared that some day I too will not see justice for something that happens to someone I love, because the guilty verdict is not what justice means to me. George Floyd is still dead and we all saw his murder take place over and over in the palms of our hands. There is no amount of prison time for Derek Chauvin that could ever make the Black community feel safe and whole, therefore, justice can not come from this verdict alone. Reforming the systems that led to this happening in the first place is the justice I someday hope to see.
The guilty verdict was absolutely the right thing to move us forward, and the civil justice labor that went into holding Derek Chauvin accountable is a monumental accomplishment. I invite you to think about how much work went into holding someone accountable for a murder we all saw, and why that is.
My first concern is that the guilty verdict will make the murder of a specific Black man seem like it’s one specific person’s fault, and the white allies we need to help us change systems from within will see a system that worked and held Chauvin accountable for his actions. [Brush off hands, the work is done]. But this is ONE verdict from ONE instance that happened to make national headlines. These types of murders aren’t even always reported, they’re not always caught on tape, and they rarely end up in a court of law or make national headlines. For every George Floyd there are more names you probably don’t know, like Tanisha Anderson, India Kager, Kayla Moore, Michelle Cusseaux, Rekia Boyd, Shelly Frey, Priscilla Slater, and Crystal Ragland. You’ve heard of Breonna Taylor, but what about Pamela Turner, Nina Adams, Latasha Walton, Brittany McLean, Angel Decarlo, or April Webster?
Will my name be one you remember or one you never hear?
Before the verdict came down, I watched a reporter on tv speculate that if Derek Chauvin was found guilty, police academies would use the testimony and videos from this trial as an example of how not to do the specific knee-on-the-neck move that killed George Floyd. But it’s not just this move, is it. It’s not just choke holds, knees and bullets. It’s easy to blame an individual person, refine a singular technique, or debate how many fewer shots should have been fired. Those are EASY solutions and quick fixes. We are calling for the hard ones.
I don’t want to be knelt on differently and I’m not interested in being choked in a more humane way.
I want to live without fear of getting slaughtered in my bed because of a ‘mistake that shouldn’t have been made’ or due to a right-vs-left hand ‘accident’. I don’t want to be shot for reaching to turn down my headphones so I can hear if the shouting in the distance is directed at me or not. As I walk around my neighborhood, I want to be able to put my hands in my pockets if they’re cold. I want to be given the benefit of doubt for existing, and not have a death sentence delivered after just 12 seconds of suspicion. I want to work, shop, fish, hunt, and bike without fear in a country that promised me freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
On the phone together, Parker, Kitt and I also expressed our obvious concern over a potential ‘not-guilty’ verdict. I was worried that a ‘not-guilty’ verdict would imply that Derek Chauvin didn’t do anything wrong-- not just by his officer training standards, but morally and ethically. Regardless of training and protocols, where was his humanity? And even if he had technically followed all appropriate procedures, (which he did NOT), it doesn’t mean that the system isn’t guilty, and the training he received as an officer of the law was appropriate. I didn’t watch the whole trial because, honestly, I don’t actually care about watching 12 random people pass judgement on Derek Chauvin today when it’s not likely to help keep my brothers safe tomorrow. I want to see these systems on trial. Derek Chauvin is not the problem here, he is the symptom. Blaming individuals is a setup for upholding broken systems. Similarly, the role of a law enforcement officer is intended to address symptoms of societal problems, but that’s simply not working anymore. Individual officers may not be a problem to you, but the system they are all part of is a problem for me.
In the upcoming weeks we will be releasing a statement about our stance on #DefundThePolice. Here is an excerpt from that document:
“A majority of white Americans are just now being shown the realities of how the police treat people of color. A lot of people are asking, “why are we just hearing about this now?” Police brutality has always been an issue, it was just never made public, and was suppressed by police themselves. In recent years, 90% of American adults own a phone with a camera. The reason we are suddenly seeing more and more of this brutality isn’t because it’s something new that hasn’t happened before, it’s because this is the first time that police brutality is being broadcast to the public. There are hundreds of thousands of Black Americans who can attest to the fact that police brutality has been happening for a long time and isn’t a new issue that suddenly needs to be addressed.”
In the next couple of weeks, we will release the whole statement from Inclusive Journeys, further defining our stance on what “Defund the Police” means to us, and address the history of police and oppression in our country.
White allies, going forward: Educate yourself and examine when you ACTUALLY need to call the police. Especially when people of color are involved. Acknowledge that your perception of danger may be formed by conscious or unconscious bias’ you and everyone else hold true. Pause and truly assess the actual threat level of the situation before dialing 9-1-1. Law enforcement has continued to demonstrate that when they arrive on a scene, they can cause more harm than good, and rolling the dice and hoping for a “good cop” may cost a life. Evaluate the situation, examine your biases, and ask yourself if the police really need to be involved, or if those are the only people you know to call. Before you find yourself in an emergency, educate yourself about the resources available in your community. You can start by visiting Dontcallthepolice.com, and dashrco.org. Save this number in your phone right now 1-720-913-STAR (7827) as an alternative to 911.
One guilty verdict does not mean everything is over and done. This is a system that needs to be dismantled. And yet, we are not merely dismantlers of systems. We are also builders. We call for ingenuity, creativity, and empathy-driven solutions to build something new, together. We are on an inclusive journey, and hope to hear your voices, your needs, your thoughts, your opinions, your solutions. We’re not here to debate symptoms. We show up every single day to provide tangible real-life contributions to build a new system, replacing one that, quite frankly, scares the shit out of us.
This article was first published on The Manifestation on February 8, 2021.
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