Miki Turner, associate professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, delivered a spoken word presentation of her poem “That Something Within” during USC’s Black History Month celebration. Inspired by a gospel hymn written more than a century ago, Turner finds fortitude in the midst of upheaval.
‘That Something Within’
While there have been many anthems and hymns specifically written to help Black Americans rise above the myriad injustices we’ve faced since we were stolen from our native lands, there’s one song written by the daughter of former slaves that is inarguably fitting for today’s struggles. Lucie Eddie Campbell, a former minister of music for the National Baptist Convention, penned a hymn called “Something Within Me” in 1919. The haunting refrain is especially significant in 2022.
Something within me that holdeth the reins
Something within me that banishes pain
Something within me I cannot explain
All that I know is that there is something within
That something within Campbell is referring to is the inherent strength of our African ancestors whose faith in God allowed them to make a way out of no way. The ancestors, who were shackled and sold, beaten and berated, bullied and lynched, were somehow able to rise above it all and give birth to generations of Black Americans who had the courage of their convictions and were willing to fight the good fight even if it meant that they, like Dr. King and others, would not live long enough to celebrate the victories.
These are the shoulders upon which we stand during these troubled times. And even though we are no longer fighting for seats on the bus, we are still battling discrimination and social injustice; still fighting for voting rights; still hated by some for the pigment in our skins and still singing “We Shall Overcome” instead of “We Have Overcome.”
All of this, on top of the COVID endemic, have worn us out. We are mentally fatigued and emotionally drained.
But, despite the challenges we face as a race, and as a nation, you young people should not let fear and fatigue be your guiding light. There is something within you that makes you more than enough, more than worthy. As the sons and daughters of kings and queens you have inherited the strength to accelerate and activate the change that you want to see.
Let there also be something within us educators and elders that allows us to rise above this regressive renaissance, that we have unwillingly been thrust into. Our task is to teach out students that we won a few battles but the war rages on. We must teach them that no movement can successfully move forward until its leaders revisit the lessons of the past.
Let there be something within all of us that keeps hope alive. Let us pray that Americans, the willing inhabitants of a nation that has never been fully able to celebrate all of its vibrant flavors and hues, will one day realize that the freeway exit to healing is Reconciliation Way.
Let us get to a place where we can all sing “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty” and mean it. Let’s sing America the Beautiful knowing that God will shed his light on thee. Most importantly, let’s re-imagine the lyrics of the national anthem so that we can fully evolve into the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Those of us who are old enough to have experienced some of America’s most turbulent chapters since slavery are truly struggling to embrace hope and optimism, especially as we watch our youth suffer. We are weary. The pains of the past inform us even as we strive to let no one steal our joy. The babies, however, are trekking though minefields that most are unable or unwilling to navigate. Some are too mentally exhausted to fight, and others never went through basic training.
So, as we celebrate this month, this year and beyond, let us draw strength from the ancestors who survived the Middle Passage. Let us salute Mamie Till, who instinctively knew her son’s death would be unfolding for all eternity in the psyches of those who mourned him, and in guts of those who murdered him. Let us strive to duplicate the efforts of all the assassinated warriors who tried to lead us to the Promised Land. Let us use our collective power to stop the madness so that those whose loved ones were senselessly killed over traffic violations, for selling single cigarettes, jogging in the wrong ‘hood or allegedly passing counterfeit $20 bills, can banish the pain by finding peace and healing within.
As Trojans, we are an entitled bunch. It doesn’t matter if you are part of the one percent or the 101 percent, we know we’re all that. There is inherently something within all of us that wants to win, that wants to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion. We can achieve all of these goals by taking care of each other.
COVID-19 has effectively taught us that we are all in the same boat. The virus doesn’t care about your tax bracket, your religion or the color of your skin. Therefore, Trojans cannot sit back and watch other Trojans drown in sea of despair. We must all work together toward perpetual healing of our community, and of our nation, so that we can truly fight on for eternity.
Something within me thinks there’s no time like the present.