Elridge: Let’s Resolve to Make a Better Future
My name is Colmon Elridge, and I am the chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
Until November 2020 when Governor Andy Beshear recommended me and the State Central Executive Committee elected me to become chair, no other person of color had the honor of saying those words.
As great as the honor, it is not lost on me that I stand on the shoulders of and fight side-by-side giants of the Kentucky Democratic Party, leaders of color, any number of whom would have been amazing in this role. I serve knowing that the path that has been paved for me to lead our party must be extended, widened, and transformed, so that I am not the last.
I take this role at a time in which I have been privileged in my lifetime to work to elect our nation’s first black President in Barack Obama, and our nation’s first Black, South Asian, and female Vice-President in Kamala Harris.
I have witnessed in the faces of my children the pride of seeing leaders’ faces that look like them and who embody the reality of the American promise. I have seen the wonder my children sit with when they see pictures of me working for former Governor Steve Beshear, see pictures of me with President Obama or President Biden, or a host of people who they have come to see on tv. As my oldest son said, “you are a part of America’s story”.
Indeed, we all are.
Yet I also take this role at a time of great despair in our Commonwealth and our nation and not unlike many beginnings to past Black History Month’s.
I take this role at a moment in our nation, where white supremacists feel emboldened to declare war on our nation and instead of being rebuked, they are invited to sit as members of Congress, and treated with a dignity when they are arrested that so many people of color, arrested for lesser crimes, are denied.
I take this role at a time in which the President of the Kentucky State Senate openly weeps on the floor of that body for what he believes in a desecration of the Pledge of Allegiance, while never having shared such concern or sadness for the plight of people of color — who also have respect for and recite that same pledge while bearing the scars of the brutality of a nation generations of people of color have asked to love them, only to be denied.
I take this role at a time when, in our Commonwealth, the sitting Attorney General, himself an African American, abused his position, perverted our laws, and manipulated a grand jury in order to dismiss the murder of Breonna Taylor. At a time where this Attorney General touts being “pro-life”, he has attempted to demean the life of a beautiful black woman because he can stand upon that life and see in the future, his ambitions.
I lead a political party at a time in our nation where states continue to actively try to find ways to deny people of color, the poor, and the seemingly powerless, the right to vote.
I take this role at a time where black women are still more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and are still not given the agency to save their own lives.
I take this role at a time when black and brown people, so traumatized by the last four years of a wreckless white supremacist who was afforded the honor of being President of the United States and who used that platform to amp up white fragility, white victimhood, and white supremacy, are increasingly sicker and sicker because of the trauma to our minds and our bodies.
I take this role at a time where, as a father of school-aged children, we know that equity in education continues to be a promise unfulfilled since 1954’s Brown vs. the Board of Education.
I write these things because, as we begin this Black History Month, we must recognize, as my big momma would say, “we ain’t where we once was, but we ain’t where we need to be”.
We can say slavery does not exists, but then, what do we call a nation that calls a prison-industiral complex that is funded by the imprisonment of black and brown bodies, simple capitalism?
We can say we have moved forward in terms of race relations, but then, why is it even thinkable that whites so incensed that a black and South Asian woman, dare serve as Vice-President, refer to her as a “ho”?
We can say America is great, but if you are forced to walk through the streets of America shouting, “Black Lives Matter” as a plea for the value of your life and of those that look like you, tjem the greatness of America is not a universal truth, but a circumstantial one.
This Black History Month the story we tell ourselves should be truthful. It should confront the reality that, for the things that make our nation great, we can be better, and indeed we are required to be better. Our union was never meant to be perfect, yet we cannot be the keepers of the flame that leave our progress worse than what we inherited.
We then cannot tolerate the devolving that has prevailed in the far-right.
We cannot tolerate the idea that in the year 2021 people can be moved to anger by false stories of voter fraud, but dismiss the domestic terrorism we have all seen because it is politically adventagous.
As we begin this month, I am reminded of the black patriots who did not give up on the promise of America. Many of them, like my hero Congressman John Lewis, lived to see progress made, while others like his hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed holding a mirror to our nation’s collective self, paying the ultimate price for what some did not want to see.
We should resist the temptation of simply using this month as a check-off list of black achievement. Taking pride in those achievements is incredibly important, but what good is celebrating our achievements if you do not value the lives behind them?
Instead, in celebrating black history, resolve to make a better future. We are not so wedded in our most destructive tendencies that we are unable to seek a new, more just, more equitable, more human path forward. One in which the color of your skin does not determine your worthiness to work, learn, or literally breathe.
Many of us come to this month, this year, weary but resolved. And while we built the super-power that is America on the backs of Africans kidnapped, detained, whipped, raped, and murdered, we as black people will not be the ones who, with that same brutality affixed against us, build the American future. That will either be done with all of us, or it will not be done.
I choose to believe America is worth fighting for.