Written by: RaeVen Ridgell, O’Neill MPA candidate
“Gimme a five, on the Black hand side.”
As a child, we used to say this chant gleefully. It was natural to do the entire chant as we played hand games in my grandmother’s front yard. Under her eye, we joyed in the summertime. It was the only time of year I was able to spend with my Indiana family since I lived full time in Arizona. I used to love catching fireflies, running around, and singing loudly in family talent shows to Motown.
These memories are not exclusive to me, they are a common family theme; however, summer always delineated when we got to the Fourth of July. My family didn’t celebrate the Fourth. I knew that it was because at the time of America’s Independence, my people weren’t free, but I would never truly fathom what this all meant until I became an adult.
The indoctrination of “on the Black hand side” was my culture’s way of reminding me to bask in the glow of my melanin. The trips to Indiana were so I would be able to spend time around my family and our Black community, but my grandmother’s watchful eye was because she had witnessed cruel things happen to little Black kids if they went too far into the white neighborhoods.
My entire childhood was helicopter parenting and constant indoctrination to love who I was because society was dangerous. Now–as a Black woman who has entered the world of politics as a policy major and former executive director of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus–it all makes so much sense.
My time in that role reinforced why my childhood was so important. As I watched legislators– particularly the Black women who led the Caucus–advocate fiercely for every Hoosier I knew that policy was a great equalizer.
It’s the reason I was drawn to the O’Neill program. It’s the reason I believe that education that is fully accessible for all, matters more than some realize.
When the Declaration of Independence was written, it was clear that Black women were not intended to receive the invitation of freedom. Yet, in 2023, it is clear that Black women have no problem with requesting, demanding, or fighting for that invitation. Not just for some, but for all. What is abolition without Harriet? What is reconstruction/the suffragette movement without Ida? What is Civil Rights without Coretta, Fannie, or Ella? What is Stonewall without Marsha? The list goes on and on into the modern day. After all, where is our state legislature without the strong presence of the women who primarily make up the IBLC–a group that has helped pass historic legislation that improves the lives of all?
My time with the caucus was significant to my leadership as a young Black woman. I learned that everything can be made accessible if you take the time to do it. I learned that emails are nice, but phone calls filled with sincerity can be better. I learned that going to the community is the greatest thing you can ever do. I spent an entire summer traveling to towns I had never been to just to hear the voice of the community. I cannot lie—sometimes I was met with racism as I traveled through sundown towns, but that didn’t stop me from going.
It is my belief that our time on Earth should improve the lives of posterity, even if it is a bit frightening traveling through sundown towns- it’s scary, but I have no fear. It is all a part of a greater mission. For me, that mission is pushing the needle forward with my education and encouraging tough conversations surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. It’s also in, ensuring the time it took Carter G. Woodson to propose, “Negro History Week”—which soon became Black History Month—would not be in vain.
Furthermore, I want summers where Black children could play under a watchful eye, but never know a world where they’re prohibited due to the color of their skin, where maybe one day, I as a grandmother could watch and be glad that my posterity don’t have to grow up in a cruel world. Where they can run around, catch fireflies, gleefully and joyfully shout with pride, “Gimme a five… On the Black Hand Side.”