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‘Who Knows Our Stories Better Than We Do?’: Why Black People Should Write Their Own Obituaries

Writing your own obituary may sound unusual, but writing consultant Linda Jones suggests you should consider doing so.  

“Who knows our stories better than we do?” Jones says.

Jones’ is spearheading a legacy letter and obituary writing online course where participants can have a hand in how their stories are told for future generations to read about them.

While working as a newspaper reporter, Jones says she was tasked with writing many obituaries during her career and too often she encountered gaps in people’s personal stories that are left unfilled because she lacked pertinent details on the deceased person’s life to fill them, by laying the groundwork while still alive, a more complete story can be written.  

“People don’t think about it until they become that family historian and they’re looking for information about family members,” she said.

Jones highlights the importance of sharing accurate history amid the ongoing critical race theory debate as evidence, Black communities across the nation should have a hand in sharing their own stories.

“We’ve been so misrepresented in the storytelling and the history, even now. Sometimes I tell parents, look at the history when your kids bring their textbooks home and see what they’re saying about slavery and that kind of thing,” she said.

Jones understands openly discussing topics surrounding death can be uncomfortable, however, she suggests looking at the bigger picture. “No one’s asking you to predict your demise,” Jones says, and “we need to get over superstitions and think we’re bringing something on.”

Jones used Marcus Garvey, the Black nationalist and leader of the Pan-Africanism movement’s final days as evidence why penning a legacy letter or outlining your obituary is useful. Days before Garvey died in his home in London, England, he was recovering from a stroke when he came across an obituary written on him from the Chicago Defender in 1940, which assumed he already died.

In the outlet’s article, it described Garvey as “broke, alone and unpopular,” to which Jones says is an extreme example of why outlining your own legacy is useful.

“Martin Luther King, the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ that’s a legacy letter. It can be to family members, but it can also be to society as well and sometimes it evolves into that as well,” Jones said.

Jones’ afrobituary online course is in two parts and begins at $47 throughout the month of February. Course participants will learn how to write legacy letters and obituaries.

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