Keepin’ It in the Family: A Family Legacy Isn’t Its History

Here’s the first in a new series on looking at the family from a different lens:

One of the old values I liked that was drilled into my head coming up was the importance of legacy, especially family legacy. As youngster I was often amazed at how cool it was to hear about families who were well-known.

I had the privilege of attending a prestigious private school during my middle school years. Not to toot my own horn, but it was a blessing to have such an opportunity back then. My family was quite blue-collar and my mother logged long hours in order to pay for those exorbitant private school fees with the aims of such an investing in learning leads to the fast lane of success. While my views on the experience itself are markedly different from what she may have intended, I was able to rub shoulders with the kids of some pretty influential folks at that time. It made a lasting impact on me, and shaped how I viewed legacy, lineage and family heritage.

It used to mean a lot to be proud of one’s family name and heritage. It was awesome to see a friend walk into a room and you hear people say “that’s a Jones or that Mrs. Jones son”. There was such a high level of respect and healthy expectations to uphold whatever standard of excellence or notoriety that the family had achieved. In most cases, it wasn’t about following in the footsteps of a famous sibling or parent in the same area of success, but it was more about HOW you lived, conducted yourself, pursued and achieved your own dreams.

Actually I don’t think in contemporary society we’ve completely moved away from the importance of family legacy. It is one thing for an individual to be famous, but when a family becomes prominent due to success of its members, that’s really something noteworthy. In American culture, when we think of the Kennedy’s, we know what their family legacy is. When we thing of the Bush family, we know what their legacy is – whether we agree with it or not. When we think of the names King and Marley, people often smile that understanding smile at the power of lineage.

So what is the legacy that we are passing onto to your youth? Well, the eyeball test says that it seems to be you are what your family does, being doomed to repeat your parent’s history. Statistically it is shown that youth raised in the home where domestic violence occurs are more at risk to have that cycle repeat in their individual families. There are some who deal with similar stats when it comes to things like incarceration and substance abuse. We are on track to have 70% of African-American households to be headed by mothers. Many parents cannot explain to their children who their grandparents are because they don’t know who they are THEMSELVES. For some families, tracing lineage is playing the lottery – you may get it right but not always be ready for some of the headaches the relatives can bring.

Unfortunately one never acts alone. Our actions often reflect upon our family, adding to the history that sometimes we are not proud to tell. Perhaps it is time to rediscover the legacy of our own families. Maybe if our parents are not able to see eye to eye, we as the youth should take the bull by the horns and claim ownership of our family’s history and shape its legacy.

A name isn’t just a name once it is claimed and owned with pride.


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