You're writing about the NFL pre-game?!
It’s weird to find myself writing about anything even remotely related to sports. When casual conversation turns to the Orioles or the Ravens, I usually remind my friends that I divorced sports when my first marriage ended. But as Black History Month draws to a close, I’ve been following reactions to the inclusion of Lift Every Voice and Sing – the “Black National Anthem” in the Super Bowl LVII Pregame show.
In 1899 poet and activist James Weldon Johnson composed the lyrics (and his brother John the music) to be performed the following year at a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It was debuted by a chorus of 500 Black children, and spread by word of mouth. He called it “National Hymn.” We’re talking about a time period when the gains of post-Civil War Reconstruction were gutted by the spread of Jim Crow. The NAACP began calling the piece a “Negro National Anthem” in 1917. Just a year before that, President Woodrow Wilson – who also introduced segregation into the Federal government – signed an executive order making the Star-Spangled Banner “our” national anthem.
The NFL began playing the song before its games in the 2020 season after the months of protests following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
Take in the lyrics...
…while noting that the Superbowl versions feature only the first verse. (Much as we are offered only the first verse of the Star Spangled Banner. See Go Deeper for more):
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Copy this into your browser: YouTube Lift Every Voice and Sing
Click on the links you are drawn to.
To my Black and Brown readers, if your favorite isn’t here, please take a moment and send me the link!
To my white readers: take a musical browse break. Find a version that touches you. Bookmark that link. Adopt it as your personal go-to Soundtrack any time you find yourself 1) brought up short by media, and/or your own your own racialized response to breaking news, or to an interaction with a colleague or a friend 2) wanting to recognize, honor, celebrate a liberating moment of Black and Brown Renaissance, personhood, culture, creative genius, perseverance.
Music has the power to open us up to transformative learning.
No matter whether we take this as a hymn or an anthem: we know the proper response is to stand. To stand up. To stand with. To stand up for. This hymn invites us – all of us – to stand and honor the dignity, the history, and the hopeful future of Black and Brown people in our nation.
Alicia Keys’ pre-recorded video for the Super Bowl LV. Remember this is recorded a few months after George Floyd’s murder and in the first year year of the Pandemic. Look carefully for the masks and t-shirts that Say Their Names.
The Chicago Children’s Choir, where all three verses are sung. Recorded for their 2022 Black History Month Concert, one of the most breathtaking of Covid-times Zoom videos – how some 288 kids united in voice in their physical isolation.
Consider the implications of this excerpt from Verse 3 of the Star-Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics during a young America’s 1814 war with the British. It was adopted as our National Anthem in 1931, when the country was suffering the effects of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. And the Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Make history…reshape, re-form, your own racialized history…
You don’t have to lay down this path alone.
Gather a group of 6-12 friends, colleagues, who share your desire and readiness. We can begin to imagine and create a world where racial healing is an ongoing feature of our personal lives and the world.
Pick my brain for 30 minutes about –
a 2-hour practice-based format for working with our own lived experiences and racialized origin stories
A 4-hour practice-based retreat encounter with our personal and national history, the American Dream, and American Citizenship.
For those embedded in a family, community, or workplace challenged by today’s controversies and conflicts, I offer a bundle of six 1/1 sessions of support for personal inquiry, skill-building, and transformation to negotiate the rough waters of your racialized and gendered life.
Let’s take these illuminating and strengthening steps together.