Voices from the local Black community explore the meaning of the African proverb 'it takes a village' in the 21st century.

Reflections: Examine your village

Photo by Travis Gauthier

Being a child of the ’60s, I was born into the height of the civil rights movement and in the genesis of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Racism. Segregation. The uncertainty of a loved one’s return home. You never knew what you would encounter once you exited your home for the day. One thing for sure is that during that time, despite the name calling, stares or mistreatment, our village was one of the main things we could count on.

Growing up, my village consisted of individuals such as my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, politicians, entrepreneurs, doctors, clergy, coaches and lawyers. They affirmed us. Taught us. Reassured us. Corrected us. Disciplined us. Poured into us. Prayed over us. Celebrated us. And told us we were enough. When one of us succeeded, it felt like we all did, because we were a village. A community. 

As a village, each person knew the real value in being villagers, because they knew what was truly at stake — the success of the next generation of African Americans. 

But it did not stop there. I also placed a value on my village. Being only a few generations separated from enslaved ancestors, I knew why my village encouraged me to go the extra mile and work hard for what I wanted. Nothing would be given. No shortcuts could be taken. So, I esteemed them by making the most of every opportunity that was given. 

To this day, I have a tremendous appreciation for my village and the lessons members of it bestowed upon me. It is what has carried me through life. 

Even now, with my own children, I do my best to keep them connected to their village and help them understand its value. It is my hope that the village will continue for the next generations to come, just as it has with generations past.

So, yes, the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is still very much relevant. The reason why the village is relevant today is solely because of the resiliency of the African American community. 

About Reflections on the Village

For generations, Black neighborhoods were communal. Everyone had a role to play, and everyone understood the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. They also understood that their neighborhood, like African American communities across the country, was a village bound by their African ancestry and the bloodline that begat them.

Can you imagine this happening today?

We asked a spectrum of commentators to weigh in, using this prompt: 

Has the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child become irrelevant and obsolete in today’s world? Why? Or why not? And what can we as African Americans do to ensure that our Black children succeed against the odds?

Ruth Foote, collection editor

The resiliency of African Americans can be witnessed throughout this country’s history. It is truly an innate characteristic of our people and our culture that has served as the solid foundation for the village. Despite experiencing segregation, police brutality and inequality, African Americans have continued to shepherd the next generation in hopes they will discover the truth that the bondages of the past are not binding.

Now, in a time where our youth face social, mental, emotional and physical pressures, it is pertinent that the village continues to ensure that the next generation can succeed against the odds.

So how do we ensure the village continues?

To continue the village, it begins with each one of us.

We have all been partakers of the village. As partakers, we each have an individual responsibility to contribute back to the village. 

Within the village, everyone has a responsibility. While we may not have the same responsibilities, we still have a responsibility. Like a beehive, there are different roles for different workers, but each is essential to the survival of the village.

What makes the village work is when we as people try our best to do the most with what we have been given. We should never assume that our contribution to the village is too small and futile. There is no educational or experience requirement. Ensuring the village continues begins when we make the decision to be part of the village and continue the work those before us started. 

With efforts being made to under-represent the voices of the village, it is even more important that we step into our role. 

Examine your village. How does it look in 2022? 

Remember, being the village does not mean going far, especially now with current technology.

Whether at home or within the local community center, our village makeup and the way we village can vary, but the goal is still the same — continue the village by being the village.

Our generation is a vital link for the next generation.

So what are you waiting for? What steps are you taking to be the village?

Remember, the next generation needs what you have.