By Chelle Wilson, International Secretary of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorotity, Inc., Texas Metro News
“The Need for Heroes” by Langston Hughes was featured in a 1941 issue of The Crisis. He was bothered by the overwhelmingly negative images of African Americans in the news, movies, and books, as well as the growing erasure of Black heroes from the iconic—like Denmark Vessey and Mary McLeod Bethune, to the not so well known like Sam Solomon, who in 1939 led the first African Americans to vote in Miami, and Roscoe Dunjee, who in 1915 started the Black Dispatch newspaper in Oklahoma City to challenge and expose racism and violent attacks on the community.
Hughes believed heroes like these would never make the news, writing “Why bother with the [news] at all? Look around you for the living heroes who are your neighbors—who may or may not always speak perfect English but who are courageous, straightforward, strong…and whose words and thoughts gather up what is in our own hearts and say it clearly and plainly sitting quietly in a chair in front of you.”
I remembered Hughes’ words as I began to read all the articles and tributes celebrating the life and legacy of Nipsey Hussle. I was saddened that I didn’t know more about Nipsey, his story, and all of his accomplishments before his passing.
From major national news outlets to local dailies, the “everyday hero” is featured all the time.
Recently, I’ve seen stories on a high school principal who installed washing machines, so his students wouldn’t miss school because of dirty clothes; a nurse that adopted a baby who had been in the hospital for over a year without any visitors; and a chef who left his Michelin Star-rated restaurant to try and add some flavor to school lunches in New York.
These are all heroic efforts, to be sure, but so are Nipsey’s.
That leaves me to wonder, why are so many just learning about his heroics? My mother used to always say, “Give me my flowers while I live.” I view her words a little differently now.
Nipsey Hussle’s transformative work in community development, entrepreneurship, economic empowerment and, efforts to end gang violence will be recorded in the Congressional Record, but all of this comes posthumously.
I believe celebrating our heroes does as much for us as it does them. Most who put in work to improve our communities, using whatever resources they have, don’t do it for flowers, applause, or any other recognition. However, is it too much to ask of ourselves to let them know they are seen and valued?
“We have a need for heroes,” writes Hughes, “[heroes] that will encourage and inspire our youth…to move and stir them to be forthright, strong, clear-thinking, and unafraid.” I believe we have just that kind of hero all around us. Nipsey Hussle may not have ever described himself as a hero, but his mission to transform the community that he both loved and lived in was heroic.
Let his sudden loss remind us to honor the Nipsey Hussle’s right here in our own neighborhoods, schools, churches, rec centers, community organizations, sororities, and fraternities. If we look, they are there. We will find them doing the important work Nipsey embodied in life and death, “more faith and less fear…talking about dreams. Better to do it and let it be seen, cause then it’s clear.”
Chelle Wilson is a speaker, journalist, and the International Secretary of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.