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Dear Ancestors

School of Social Work, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, USA
Genealogy 2021, 5(1), 9;
Submission received: 14 December 2020 / Revised: 15 January 2021 / Accepted: 21 January 2021 / Published: 24 January 2021


This poem explores intergenerational wounding and healing from the perspective of a descendant of the African diaspora and of people affected by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Inspired by intergenerational transmission discourse, the author reflects on the original and inherited injuries of the mass trauma of enslavement and initiates a transtemporal communication of empathy and healing with her ancestors.

Dear Ancestors,
In my silent thoughts, I hear the distant wailing of your cries.
In my body, I feel the burden of your tears.
I, too, would never have wanted to be ripped away from home.
Although centuries have gone,
Our spirits still harmonize in hurt.
We nurture our babies with those same wounds.
As the legacy of that pain persists
It often feels as though our souls have died.
Sometimes I wish I could have bottled the antidote for that kind of agony,
Secretly sent the cure back in time over those Atlantic Shores
So that my momma would not have inherited the remnants of that anguish,
And none of us kids would have had to watch this cycle of terror with our own eyes.
Better yet,
I wish I could have intercepted the original blows;
Made duds of every weapon of subjugation violently launched by our oppressors
So that toxic venom wouldn’t be embedded in the DNA of their successors
Who to this day ensure
That in addition to carrying your pain in my blood,
I also know the direct sting of my own.
Apparently I can’t depend on them to cease firing
So You felt like my only hope.
To be honest,
I really did try to start with begging Mama.
I pleaded with her to care for her injuries,
To bandage those wounds that grandad left in her body memory
But her eyes just seem to keep telling me
That she can’t do
What she don’t know.
Grandma’s eyes had the same testimony.
So, I came here.
Originally because
I needed YOU to know
So SHE could do
So I can make sure
That THEY don’t get dragged onto the field to fight my battles
When they are facing a war of their own.
But on the way
I found a stack of your narratives
I must have rummaged through volumes of your words
Trying to find the blueprint to bring back to show mama and ‘em
In those pages
I find evidence of how hard you fought to protect us
How you persevered under conditions I could not have imagined to endure.
Because of that,
WE survived.
Because of that,
I hate the fact that I even had to come back here
Desperately pleading for even more bravery than you have already shown.
So I borrowed your prayers for my trip home.
When I called out to God with this dilemma
She reminded me that your story is far more than the transfer of pain,
And, that this,
This is just my leg of the journey.
When you found out that they were en route to destroy your body,
You planted these seeds way deep inside of me
My mission
Is the realization of your faith.
This desire for healing
Has roots
That are directly connected
to your heart.
And Mama’s too.
Now that I understand
I had to stop back by
To leave gratitude on this altar
For YOUR fire
I will honor it.
I will embody it.
I will pass it on.
With Love,
Your Great Great Granddaughter


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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MDPI and ACS Style

Henderson, Z. Dear Ancestors. Genealogy 2021, 5, 9.

AMA Style

Henderson Z. Dear Ancestors. Genealogy. 2021; 5(1):9.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Henderson, Zuleka. 2021. "Dear Ancestors" Genealogy 5, no. 1: 9.

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