by Troy Landrum Jr.
As a Black male in the United States, the concept of generational wealth has been as foreign to me as knowing the original language of my ancestors. The forethought to look beyond present circumstances and financially plan for the generation of family that will come after you is a privilege. One typically reserved for those who don’t share the same skin complexion as me and those among us who the American dream was actually meant for. The concept of generational wealth reveals a universal truth among millions of Black people in the United States — a devastating history full of violence, purposefully lost history, white supremacy, and unfulfilled promises. A history that has prevented Black people from looking to the future with the hope that their next generation of family would be financially taken care of.
The options are limited, and only a select few among our people can actually obtain generational wealth. At this point in my life, my peers and community have rejected those old ideas. The elders have taught me to understand generational wealth as more than financial freedom. They have taught me the power of understanding my history and controlling my narrative. It has opened my eyes to another avenue of freedom, and I understand that knowing and passing down the history of my people is just as important as the financial freedom we seek for the generation to come.
It wasn’t until I was introduced to Mr. Delbert Richardson — a self-taught educator, second-generation storyteller, and ethnomusicologist who is the founder and curator of the “American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths” — that I was able to conceptualize “generational wealth” as more than financial security, but as knowledge. A knowledge that shares the stories of the true history of African American people, passed down from generation to generation, spread throughout communities and, most importantly, taught to the youth who make up our community. The youth — who face an educational path filled with misguided history, erased history, and a history that is often introduced at the time in history when Africans in the United States were enslaved — need to understand that we are more than an enslaved people. It is a great gift to learn that slavery was one part of the story of your history but not the defining point of your history. That knowledge is life-changing.
Mr. Richardson has brought the magic and power of narrative full circle. He founded “The Unspoken Truths” — A traveling museum that re-educates people of all ages about the history, genius, and important contributions of African American people and their ancestors in Africa.
When I first stepped foot in the traveling museum, currently located at the Puget Sound Educational Service District building in Renton, there was a quote that took my breath away. An African proverb states, “Until the Lion tells his tale, the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” My journey through the museum was accompanied by Mr. Richardson, and he told me, as I soaked in the knowledge, that “we are the lions.” When those words came out of his mouth, I then understood that within myself, I had the power to continue to understand my history, my ancestors’ history, and it was my duty to tell it.
“The Unspoken Truths” museum started with a journey through the origin of the genius of African ancestors and continued through three historical points of American history, or African American history, in the United States. The four sections were labeled “Mother Africa,” “American Chattel Slavery,” “The Jim Crow Era,” and “Still we Rise.” The museum displays were curated and meticulously brought to life in an honoring, empowering, and scholarly way. The power lies in the details of how it begins and how it ends, purposefully shedding light on our amazing contributions to STEM in our homeland of Africa and the world as a whole, while shining an important light on the many contributions Black people have made in America.The traveling museum creates a realm of education through many ways of learning. Throughout each of the four sections, there are items that define the period that it teaches. There are also pictures, articles, cultural artifacts, and stories. Visitors have the option of experiencing the museum on their own or joining a guided tour. No matter what type of learner you are, the museum has an effective way to connect you to illuminating information.
As I came upon the last part of the museum, Mr. Richardson began to share with me all of the widely and presently used inventions by Black folks that have shaped the way we interact and create in the world. These inventions include items like light bulbs, pencil sharpeners, and dough rollers — things that we often use, but many of us do not realize were created by Black people. We then came upon a poster that made the case for Black people receiving reparations in this country. For me, this represented the balance between generational wealth and the power of knowledge, challenging me to understand the place and importance of both. Mr. Richardson said, “The door latching system in existence now, Osbourn Dorsey owned the patent, but because he didn’t have the means to build infrastructure around this, he had to sell the patent for little to no money. … How do we as Black people understand the importance of retaining our rights and not selling them for less than what they’re worth?” Mr. Richardson spoke about the history of Black brilliance existing in a society that allowed Blacks to be lynched. Building infrastructure and holding on to wealth was extremely difficult.
The museum summoned an array of feelings for me. Sadness, empowerment, anger, and hope were displayed on my face and in my heart as I slowly walked through the museum. I allowed those feelings to be, trying not to control them or rationalize them. I just allowed them to flow through me. What I have come to understand at a deeper level through this experience is that we live in a capitalistic society plagued by the history of white supremacy and we still live within this system today. What is important for me is understanding that passing on this crucial knowledge to people around me can be more impactful to their spirits than material wealth ever could be.
Thinking about the history of Black inventors and considering what it would take to hold on to patent rights, Mr. Richardson said, “One of the ways it looks like is sacrificing. And unfortunately, one of the things that I believe that is prevalent right now as it relates to capitalism is looking at quick turns rather than investment and equity.” Hearing this gave me a greater sense of hope that the young boy inside me craved and wished I could have gained earlier in life. The empowering knowledge of me being more than what the oppressor told me I was, and that I have the power to shape my own narrative for my future and those who will come after me. In the words of Mr. Richardson, “Whatever we have is not about us, but what we leave for the next generation.”
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Troy Landrum Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is currently a program producer for KUOW’s “Radioactive” program. He has spent the past few years as a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seward Park and recently graduated with a master’s in fine arts at the University of Washington, Bothell. Follow Troy on Twitter at @TroyLandrumJr.
📸 Featured Image: Delbert Richardson teaching a group of students from his “American History Traveling Museum” during the 2017 Festival Sundiata. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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