When I was growing up my Grandmother had a boyfriend and his name was Bill. When I would go to my Grandmother’s house on some weekends I would talk with Bill and he would share with me stories about comic book characters, different experiences he had growing up and lots of interesting stories that always sparked my imagination. One of the most memorable things he taught me in our times spend together was how to play chess. I was very young had to be around 11 or 12 years old but I ended up loving the game and we would play the game together often. Of course in the beginning he would always win but over time I started winning because my mental skill for the game started to get better with more practice. Little did I know he was actually teaching me strategy and the mental exercise that it takes to become good at chess really enhances one’s thinking abilities. Since then I have always cherished the game and I become very excite when I run in to people who know how to play it. What Bill passed on to me is what you could call a tradition and it is one that I probably will never forget. Traditions like that that stay in our minds and in our hearts. They become what shapes us into who we are. Like our heritage that is passed on from generation to generation it is the bond through traditions that allow us to know who we are.
Knowing who we are isn’t just about seeing monuments of our past it is something that we feel inside. Something that passes to us through our blood. We are always reminded of this through our skin tone, our hair texture, and the language we speak. Growing up in East Cleveland I was surrounded by black folks and we always had our own way of speaking to each other. Some would call it ebonics. Ebonics was a way of shorting words and adopting a language that wasn’t our original tongue and making it our own. Something that is all around us has to have an effect on us. So whatever our environment is especially in our youth and most impressional times will have an influence on how we view the world and how we take action in the world. Also style plays a part in our heritage and in who we identify ourselves to be. Style by definition is the manner of doing something and that can include how we choose to dress, how we prepare food, and how we craft art or things of aesthetic value. My immediate surroundings instilled in me how to take care of myself, how to strategize for survival, and how to be cool when necessary. Those are traits that make up who I have become.
A lot of cultures preserve their heritage through books, monuments, and in a lot of cases through architectural history. As speaker and historical preservationist Justin Gunther states “Architecture is the physical manifestation of memories “ , that’s why when they're gone we mourn them. Growing up I would often go to St. Paul Lutheran church in Cleveland Ohio with my Grandmother who was a Deaconess there for over 20 years. The church was over 100 years old and I remember the structure being so magnificent. I remember the large stair ways and even the basement which was a cement tunnel like carving that resembles something that you could imagine was apart of the underground rail road. I knew a lot of different passage ways to get around in the building from visiting there for so many years and I remember the labyrinth like structure it had reminding me of places I read about in books of historical times. My Father’s side of the family had a long history of attending the church. My Grandfather attended the church, my Father and Uncle , as well as my Great Grandmother and lots of my cousins. I acquired lots of memories there like being the usher boy for a few years and preparing the wine and bread for communion, singing and acting in the Christmas program during the holidays, and leading guests to their sets before church service. After my grandmother retired from her position the church had to close shortly after. I remember it being a sad thing for so many because they had so many memories gained from coming there. When I think of significant structures in my youth St. Paul and those experiences I had there come to mind. They are experiences that helped shape me into who I am today. I learned how to be of service to others and how to have manners when speaking to my elders.
In African American culture we don’t have many monuments or structures that hold lots of pleasant memories of our history. Most commonly we have some through our churches or family homes. What we have been able to have that has passed on and serves as a constant reminder of who we are is our traditions. The memories and traditions we have are what Professor Mairead NicCraith describes as “ Intangible Heritage”. It is something that doesn’t have a physical structure but it is something that reminds us of who we are through its repetitive happenings such as a festival, ritual, Sunday Dinner, or family tradition. It’s something that we pass on through our generations and one that we keep in our hearts.
In the times we’re in now with corona it’s a time when we all have to work together despite our differences. Although in some cases we can have many cultural differences we can only survive by working together. It gives us an opportunity to write a new memory. We together have a world heritage and it is that of being apart of the human race. As Justin Gunther states some structures have “ Outstanding Universal Value” such as The Great Wall of China, The Twin Towers, the Pyramids of Egypt, or Stonehenge. These structures are valued not just by the cultures that constructed them but also by the world for having such significant value to the planet’s history. Never in history have we had a time like this. It makes us realize that the human race itself is an “ Outstanding Universal Value”. Now is a time where we have the opportunity to change and change in a way that will unite us all as one. By knowing ourselves and our history we can use that to help each other and to bring our own individual contributions to the future and that is amazing. Through our heritage we know who we are and where we are today. From that point we can also know which way we need to go and in which direction we need to take.
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