A Vision of the Future as an Eventual Ancestor
by Sirajah Raheem
ope is an exercise in practicality. It’s having a vision of the future and making a plan to get there. It’s practical optimism. If another world is possible (which it is), what have I done to make it so? Other people, people who were born and died again before we ever lived, have shaped this reality for us. Each person before us offering a little shape to a world in their own image. And when collectively people are moved by similar values, similar goals, a similar love of community, that’s when the world changes for the better.
I think of the lives that my ancestors led and how they are incredibly different from my own. They ate different things. They did different work. They had different concepts of freedom. They had different access to freedom. They dreamed different dreams. They had things that they hoped for their own futures. And then they had things that they hoped for mine. Without ever knowing me, without ever knowing what kind of person I’d be, what kind of life I’d live, they worked to make a place in the world for me. I know that the world I live in now could look very different, for better or for worse. How do we insure it’s for the better?
I imagine that some of my ancestors did that in big ways, like traveling south after Emancipation to find the family that had been taken from them. (We think that that is the first time my matrilineal line shows up on the census.) Others worked jobs where they weren’t welcome. They cleaned houses to buy a house. They argued that their children should have access to a good public education. They probably wrote letters to their governor/congressman/president. Others still survived the terrorism of racism. Just that. And they all moved the world a little. And hundreds of thousands of people moved the world with them. By doing a little or by doing a whole lot. And each push and pull, each nudge, each bump, each time someone chose to express their values was a commitment to their personal vision of the future.
There’s still moving left to do. I am going to be someone’s ancestor one day. So are you. And this world isn’t the legacy I want to leave behind. This isn’t the reality that I want my descendants, blood or not, to inherit. I look back and I look forward. I believe that another world is possible. I hope for a future where far fewer people are hurt by interpersonal violence and the other forms of violence that impact so many of our communities. How do those hopes come into reality? It’s because we envision the future and then we act on those hopes together. Our descendants will look back and say some of us did a little and some of us did a lot. But we made a space in the world for them. We dreamed a dream for them. And the people who come after them might live in a future so far beyond our wildest dreams that they won’t know exactly who to credit. How will they know that you were here?