"To the young people of color who may be experiencing some of the same challenges I faced, I will share this: Overcoming struggles can take many forms – some direct, and some patient. The number one thing to remember is to work hard."
Early on, even as a young African American boy I realized I had a unique opportunity to make a difference for my community. Now, as a 40 year old black man with 15 years of working to help change the narratives of students of color, I find myself reflecting on what this past Black History Month has meant to me.
To me, Black History Month is about honoring the people who have come before and inspiring the people who are presently trying to achieve for the future. It is about celebrating those accomplishments and being an inspiration to future generations. As a Black man in America and a Vice President of Programs for a forty-year old education nonprofit, I feel honored and privileged because the people who came before me, the ones that helped create the possibility for me to have this space, suffered a lot and sacrificed a lot.
It’s true that there are still many times when being a Black man in America feels like, “Watch out!” or “Watch your back!” Due to the racism still facing my community I know that I have to be twice as good to get half the chance at success, and I see the weight this prejudice has on Black youth nationwide. It’s a lot of responsibility to bear. At the same time, I know that I’m here because other people invested in me and even before that our ancestors survived unthinkable tragedies. I owe it to my own story and to those who came before me, to give back as much as I can. In fact, this desire is what inspired me to focus my work on education, and the achievement gap faced particularly by boys and young men of color.
To the young people of color who may be experiencing some of the same challenges I faced, I will share this: Overcoming struggles can take many forms – some direct, and some patient. The number one thing to remember is to work hard. It may sound boring and cliché, but people can’t argue with achievement, certificates and degrees, etc. For myself, I went as far as I could, getting a doctorate degree to show my commitment and develop my expertise-and the commitment to success never stops.
Consider how earning your success might look for you. Does it mean you’re always showing up at work in a way that shows your commitment? Do you focus on your studies and one day earn a degree? Whatever it is, give it your all. We can change minds shape our destiny by simply being ourselves, and breaking stereotypes that try to keep us down.
Our cultural diversity in America is beautiful. Yes, Black History Month is coming to a close, and people are planning for upcoming recognition months that celebrate other cultures disenfranchised or marginalized in our history – but that doesn’t mean the focus on the Black community has ended. Each of us carries pieces of our community and our own purpose with us, every day. All cultures together, we can continue building a country that celebrates the spectrum making our lives and work wonderful and worthwhile. That is God’s true blessing: Having respect for diversity, respect for differences and the ability to come together and do good work around it, even when there is still so much work left to do.