A scene from our reparations journey: We sit in the office of Dr. Ebony Lumumba, the Chair of the English Department at Jackson State University. We’re discussing the amazing conversation the night before on the stage of the McCoy Auditorium between Dr. Lumumba and Imani Perry. Dr. Perry was discussing her new book, South to America. (as soon as I finish the book, I’ll review it and How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith.) An audience member had asked Dr. Perry a question about “What to do?” In a paraphrase, Dr. Perry answered, “Do the work.” Within that context, Dr. Lumumba referenced the “reparative work” my husband and I were doing that had brought us to her office. work.”
The Beauty of Reparative Work
The word hits like silky fabric sliding through my fingers or the salt-heavy ocean caressing my calves. Or the slick mud that collected beneath the tractor tarp that I fashioned into tiny pitchers and cups for for a fairy table. Or my grandmother’s three fingers digging into the blue-jarred Vicks VapoRub to massage the menthol-scented goo onto my bony chest. A beauty I did not know I would find when I began this reparations journey.
Playing the Melody of Reparative Work
How do you do this melodious work? For me, I floundered like a white-bellied fish but eventually found notes to play that took me to a place on my reparations journey where an esteemed academician used the word when looking at me:
- Researched my family history, or as much of it as I could, to give myself a feel for what needed to be repaired
- Lived with that history for a long time, turning it over in my mind
- Categorized the major blocks of my ancestor’s lives that I wanted to address
- Shifted my gaze to myself
- Asked: what did I do wrong when I thought I was doing right?
The Song the Melody Creates
Reparations is reparative work. It’s work that works toward repairing. The work uses the past, but the vision is on the future. In the song the work is creating, the future is the beat that holds you steady. Gives you pace. How can you change the tune your family has been singing? Who can sing a future into being better than you? How do the notes create a theme that creates what you want to be in your life today and through tomorrow?
If this resonates with you, please join me in singing this new tune. We can find the notes together. Meet in each other’s garages to practice. Correct our tempo when we get out of whack. Stop. Start over. Realign. Take off with new joy. Together, we can make beautiful reparative work actually work.
Dr. Imani Perry, family history and reparations, how to do reparations, my reparations journey, Reparations, reparative work
I love the music metaphor!
Ellen Morris Prewitt