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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Robbins

Legacy in a Name

I was reminded recently that I am more than what I do. I identify a lot with what I used to do, and before I knew it, it was all-encompassing. It became the label that defined the whole of me. That isn’t true. We are more than our chosen vocation, contributing more than we know or understand. There is more than one thing I identify with, things in my life that define me. More than the moments of my recent history, my past has its brand or stigma that I find myself trying to remove myself from because it is somehow unsavoury and puts a bad taste in my mouth.  

I am proud of my past and culture and finding those things and traditions I can connect to, bringing them into my life. However, it is bittersweet, those moments of suffering are also inherited and passed down through the blood, becoming my pain. The generation before us, healing what they can before passing it down. Now that it is mine, I can only do my best, to heal and shrink the wound as best as I can before I fulfil my obligations of passing it down. It's become part of me, and I have learned to embrace these things about myself and the rich history that comes with it, the more I learn, the more it deepens that pride or where I come from. I might not know much but I am always looking to learn more. To learn about my family and not only where I come from, but the people, and the history that is made part of me, and a title which I identify with, and as. 

I am a descendant of Black slaves. From people I have yet to discover, but they were taken by pirates from the Congo, to the place they were sold, in Annapolis, Louisiana. The pirate was known as Black Jack Calico (1718-1720). His name was listed in my family tree, as he has given his cargo his name to escape scrutiny. The name I have now, (Robbins) was given to the slavers they were sold to. I do not have exact names, or where they lived or worked. I don’t know what kind of life they had other than what I can assume slave life to be. Working hard and being obedient because their survival hinged on that. That is the only truth I can understand from that experience. Otherwise, I have no real understanding of what my ancestors had to endure, other than what they endured. After generations, they escaped through the underground railroad through the efforts of conductors like Harriet Tubman, it was Josiah Henson, who conducted them to freedom through a place called Uncle Tom’s Cabin which coincidentally they settled and live to this day. Keep their Robbins name, they could have been taken any name, but our name is a gateway to our collective past, where we come from, and where I come from. 

Learning this gives me a different sense of what freedom means. The life they endured, before saying enough and seizing their freedom. Running from their captors, suffering recapture, and death. Eventually escaping to create their future on their terms, one that was theirs, and one where I would be part of, my family a living legacy of a wish that came true. It is humbling to learn and make part of me. 

From it, I learned to endure and to work hard. I am reminded that, no matter how hard life might be. I would never know true suffering, I don't know what it means to suffer, as they did. Life will get better, endure what I can, it can get better. Yet it can get worse, but knowing I can say enough, choose another path, and create my future.

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