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Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.


To be quite frank, it took me watching the motion picture Judas and The Black Messiah to truly come to terms with the pain and the promise of my own family's narrative. There were aspects of our story that didn't come into clear focus until I watched, and re-watched, the brave and the barbaric acts that emerge when one dares to lean into service of both race and humanity. But my family's story is also an origin story, marking the alpha, the beginning of modern mass social justice movements.

My grandfather, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, chose to meet the challenges of his time with an audacious response to the tyranny of people of color worldwide. Cry, as I often do, when I think of the magnitude of his vision and singleness of his purpose; to lead an oppressed people to reclaim their glory in order to serve humanity. For my grandfather, Back to Africa, was most importantly a state of mind that expressed as Black pride, Black excellence, Black power and Black beauty.

It's hard to imagine that my grandfather and my grandmother were in their 20s when they jointly set out to place an indelible mark on human history by creating the most successful Pan-African movement of our time. This breathtaking partnership between husband and wife, allowed them, with boldness born of conviction, to build an international organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), that quickly grew to over 1,000 plus branches in more than 40 countries with a membership, at its height, of over 6,000,000 people. The UNIA's purpose was to unite a global Black population behind a spirit of racial pride and a program of education and economic development. The UNIA also worked tirelessly for the establishment of independent Black-ruled nations and became the standard-bearer of international protest.

The impact and influence of their social justice mass movement continue to reverberate today. The major tenets evident in our global civil rights movements all draw from the framework that was created and implemented by the daring men and women who pledged their allegiance to the red, black and green. Like in days past, the groundswell of impassioned individuals willing to lay bare their lives in the name of freedom, justice and equality, harkens to my deepest memories of both my grandparents. And my beloved father, Dr. Julius Garvey, who celebrates his birthday the day before my grandfather’s, carries this mantle even today, at age 88, as he continues to petition the posthumous exoneration of my grandfather on Capitol Hill (H.Res. 148).

To remember Marcus Garvey on his birthday is to acknowledge the spirit of defiance that allowed the totality of our collective humanity to shine. In the name of people of color worldwide; he diligently served their interests so that the sun would rise to meet their own visions of greatness. And like the sun, my grandfather's voice continues to rise to meet the needs of our time.

As my grandmother so eloquently stated when she edited The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (Volumes I and II): "I decided to publish this volume in order to give to the public an opportunity of studying and forming an opinion of him; not from inflated and misleading newspaper and magazine articles; but from expressions of thoughts enunciated by him in defense of his oppressed and struggling race; so that by his own words he may be judged and Negroes the world over may be informed and inspired, for truth, brought to light, forces conviction and a state of conviction inspires action."

Marcus Garvey’s Speech Delivered at Liberty Hall NYC During the Second International Convention of Negroes – August 1921 (excerpt)

We who make up the Universal Negro Improvement Association have decided that we shall go forward, upward and onward toward the great goal of human liberty. We have determined among ourselves that all barriers placed in the way of our progress must be removed, must be cleared away for we desire to see the light of a brighter day. In climbing the heights to where we are today, we have had to surmount difficulties, we have had to climb over obstacles, but the obstacles were stepping stones to the future greatness of this Cause we represent. Day by day we are writing a new history, recording new deeds of valor performed by this race of ours.

It is true that the world has not yet valued our true worth but we are climbing up so fast and with such force that every day the world is changing its attitude towards us. Wheresoever you turn your eyes today you will find the moving influence of the Universal Negro Improvement Association among Negroes from all corners of the globe. In our corner of the world we are raising the cry for liberty, freedom and democracy. Men who have raised the cry for freedom and liberty in ages past have always made up their minds to die for the realization of the dream. We who are assembled in this Convention as Delegates representing the Negroes of the world give out the same spirit that the fathers of liberty in this country gave out over one hundred years ago. We give out a spirit that knows of no compromise, a spirit that refuses to turn back, a spirit that says “Liberty or Death.”

We are the descendants of the men and women who suffered in this country for two hundred and fifty years under that barbarous, that brutal institution known as slavery. You who have not lost trace of your history will recall the fact that over three hundred years ago your fore-bears were taken from the great continent of Africa and brought here for the purpose of using them as slaves. Without mercy, without any sympathy they worked our fore-bears. They suffered, they bled, they died. But with their sufferings, with their blood, which they shed in their death, they had a hope that one day their posterity would be free, and we are assembled here tonight as the children of their hope.

If you must be free you must become so through your own effort, through your own initiative. We have been camouflaged into believing that we were made free by Abraham Lincoln. That we were made free by Victoria of England, but up to now we are still slaves, we are industrial slaves, we are social slaves, we are political slaves, and the new Negro desires a freedom that has no boundaries, no limit. We desire a freedom that will lift us to the common standard of all men, whether they be white men of Europe or yellow men of Asia, therefore, in our desire to lift ourselves to that standard we shall stop at nothing until there is a free and redeemed Africa.

Let the world know that 400,000,000 Negros are prepared to die or live as free men. Despise us as much as you care. Ignore us as much as you care. We are coming 400,000,000 strong. We are coming with our woes behind us, with the memory of suffering behind us; they shall be our inspiration. My bulwark of strength in the conflict for freedom, will be the three hundred years of persecution and hardship left behind in this Western Hemisphere. The more I remember the suffering of my fore-fathers, the more I remember the lynchings and the burnings in the Southern States of America, the more I will fight on even when the battle seems doubtful. Tell me that I must turn back, and I laugh you to scorn. Go on! Go on! Climb ye the heights of liberty and cease not in well doing until you have planted the banner of the Red, the Black and the Green on the hilltops of Africa.