Valerie Jarrett on ‘One Thousand Years of Slavery,’ the power of knowing our history: ‘It centers you’

EXCLUSIVE: The current CEO of the Obama Foundation sat down with theGrio and broke down why she chose to be a part of this project

One Thousand Years of Slavery, currently airing on the The Smithsonian Channel, is one of the most fascinating Black History Month offerings on television this year. Diving deep into the history of slavery throughout the world, the project features voices from thinkers, celebrities and powerful leaders, one of which being current CEO of the Obama Foundation and former Senior Advisor to the Obama Administration, Valerie Jarrett.

TheGrio caught up with Jarrett to break down the exciting docuseries, why she chose to be a part of this project and the significance of Black History Month as a whole.

Valerie Jarrett
Valerie Jarrett, Board Chair of When We All Vote speaks onstage at 2019 New York Times Dealbook on November 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times)

“Well, I really believe that in order to understand our history, we have to tell our stories,” Jarrett explained to theGrio‘s Cortney Wills. “The reason we tell our stories is not just to appreciate history, but hopefully to chart a course going forward. And so I was very interested in the overall project.”

The series particularly takes a global view of the slave trade, as opposed to just looking at the Atlantic Slave Trade. Speaking to how important it is to recognize this, Jarrett added, “It was ubiquitous and a scourge in every society where it existed.”

There is power, Jarrett believes, in knowing our history.

“I think we are our history,” she explained. “We are our stories. I take great inspiration in knowing a lot about my family history going back in some cases 11 generations…and it centers you. It puts you in a place. It helps you appreciate that you are on a continuum and that while we’re here, we do the best we can and we stand on the shoulders of those in our family who come before us. And so I think those stories about our history can be very personal, very inspirational, and very motivating.”

Jarrett recalled the story of her great-grandfather, who was the first Black person to ever attend MIT. She said, “When I think about what my great-grandfather went through when he was going from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Boston to attend MIT, as a first Black person to attend MIT, well his father was born in slavery. Well, what a difference in one generation, right? I think those stories, as painful as many of our stories are from our history, I think that they’re very informative and hopefully inspirational.”

One Thousand Years of Slavery is currently airing Monday nights on The Smithsonian Channel.

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