When I was a kid, “Young, Gifted and Black” was a community-wide anthem of Black pride. Every time I heard the song, it was like she was singing directly to me, reminding me of my worth and potential. Although I’m older now, the lyrics still encourage me to succeed against the odds and work to instill the same confidence in the generations that follow me.
Although the original version released by Nina Simone touches me profoundly, Aretha Franklin’s interpretation speaks to me in a different way. The opening music and harmony have an ethereal quality, balancing sorrow and joy. Even as a child, the music reminded me of the ups and downs of life. There was a heaviness in the song, and it ran deep. But somehow the melody still projected inescapable hope at the same time.
In this whole world, you know
There are millions of boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and Black
That verse told me that I wasn’t alone and that there were lots of other kids just like me who were destined for greatness. And the song said that we could all achieve it.
When you feelin’ real low
Here’s a great truth you should remember and know
That you’re young, gifted, and Black
You got your soul intact, oh, and that’s a fact
In childhood, there shouldn’t be so many days when you feel “real low.” But the reality is that life is complicated for lots of Black children, particularly for those whose lives are steeped in the manifestations of structural racism. “Young, Gifted and Black” validated my feelings. It didn’t lie to me and suggest that I didn’t have a reason for reacting to the injustices I saw in my community, most of which were direct and indirect results of slavery and Jim Crow laws.
Oh, it’s a mighty sweet thing, yes, it is now
Throughout my life, this uplifting three and a half minute pep talk has told me to remember that I am special, that I can use my gifts to make a difference in my community, and that my gifts will allow me to create a life that will bring joy and abundance.
You got the future, don’t you know it’s a fact?
When I hear Aretha Franklin sing “Young, Gifted and Black,” she’s telling me that my life matters. And she nurtures my hope for the future.
Rosey Lee is a New Orleans native who lives in Atlanta. She is the author of Beautiful, Complicated Family, a collection of uplifting flash fiction stories. Her stories have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, Turnpike Magazine, and elsewhere. Her work has also been nominated for the 2019 Best of the Net anthology. Subscribe to her website for updates and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.
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