1950s, 1960s, 1970S, Affirmative Action, Black boys, Black men, Black women, Black Youth, Civil Rights, Civil Unrest, CONGRESS, Control, Corporate America, Counter Culture, Dementia, Diaspora, Doo Wop, Drama, Dreams, Exploitation, Freedom, Uncategorized


© PJ Hayward
New York, 2017

In my youth I was a fierce militant. I was certain that we, the Youth of America, would overthrow our elitist, arrogant and controlling government and that our battle cry of Inclusiveness, Brotherhood and Enough for All, would reign.

In those days, while I had great respect for the bravery and passion of Dr. King, I was a follower of the teachings of Malcolm X, whose speeches I would listen to over the radio or read in pamphlets and literature distributed around. The last thing I would ever do was turn the other cheek if someone were to come after me. In fact I would do everything in my power to try to obliterate them AND any friend of theirs lurking nearby.

About that same time I began to hear the song “We Shall Overcome” – to my recollection, first introduced to us by Joan Baez. It was sung at all the demonstrations, sit-ins, marches and almost any other Civil Rights protest or event you could think of. It became kind of an Anthem of the Black struggle.

I, in my militant zeal, did not at the time carry a reverence for that song in the way I learned to do later on. As a matter of fact it made me angry that people were in need of even singing such a song. If it were up to me I would just go bashing my way through everything in front of me in order to Overcome.

Many years later I learned to really appreciate this poignant and beautiful song through the unintentional intervention of a very dear friend. My son had a playmate who had a favorite Auntie.  I grew to know, love and hold the greatest respect for this woman who then, as now, dedicated the greater part of her life to just quietly doing her part to make a difference. With no great fanfare or self-praise, my friend spent many a weekend holding events and programs to edify, guide, enlighten and teach the neighborhood young people about the history, greatness and heritage of black folks. All of these gatherings and events were begun with the group all joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Observing my friend and the groups in these very low-key and personal settings, I began to really fully appreciate the true meaning and depth of this song.  Finally, I looked beyond just the words that I had heard so many, many times back in the day. I became aware of an un-nameable aura that grew around the group as they sang this song. There was a tone in which this was not a song of self empowerment so much as a somber expression of a kind of cautious faith. My mind as well as my ears now heard something almost akin to an expression of semi-resignation – but with the caveat of the potential for a hint of hope. This was the exact opposite of my youthful view that the song was a statement of uprising or a statement of found power – almost a quiet battle cry.

Now the Divided States of America is about to embark on a frightening new road. We have elected a man who is chomping at the bit to tear down every stepping stone that has been built on the road to diversity and inclusiveness in our country.

Not even in office yet, his inauguration is slated to be the most unattended and protested in the history of our country. And rightly so. We have watched in recent days as this man has appointed or suggested for appointment, not just one fox to guard the henhouse but a whole multi-plex of foxes to guard the hens.

As an Elder now, knowing 72 years of our past, I am watching this new history play out before my eyes . The great promise and hope of Barack Obama seems to be fading by the second.

I speak now to the youth – USE YOUR POWER! You have great, great power! Use your power and your voice and vote with every possible opportunity to restore the promise and the dream of those who came before you singing that cry of hope, “We Shall Overcome”! It doesn’t have to have a sudden question mark behind it, it can again become a Statement!

Young people, with every Senatorial, Congressional, Mayoral election to come, LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD! Right now it looks like we have four years of struggle. But don’t forget that also means we still have four years to prepare to repair whatever havoc this multi-plex of foxes puts into play now!

3 thoughts on ““WE SHALL OVERCOME?””

  1. Very well said! How sad that we have to face such a terrible future with a president we hate. Good luck with trying to save us.


  2. Hi, Thinking of you and your true words. I’m thinkin’ it’s the We that’s the most important part of the song title. Evolution of human interactions seems to improve so at a snails pace, but there is a slight improvement in our short lifetimes. Always two steps ahead and one back. Why do some people feel a need to lord it over others and always want more ? Will we ever be able to evolve out of those destructive behaviors ? For me this is the over-riding global issue. We can still be kind and generous as bashing never lasts long, I know. Love to you and yours,


    1. Yes – to every single thing you just said. I guess it must just be human nature to be jealous, greedy and whatever else it is that causes mankind to continually be in conflict. I say that only because this seems to be the nature of our species since the beginning of recorded time. Even cave dwellers left pictographs of strife.


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