I want the celebration of Black History Month to be about the future.
As I read more and more articles about the state of our schools, families, and communities -- I am reminded of a science fiction movie with a different script. I believe the future we seek is the past we have lost.
I hear about parents "waiting for Superman" to provide a good school for their children. I am reminded of the story my father told me about the schools in his rural community going only to the 7th grade. So, he worked on the farm from 13 to 17, and walked 20 miles to move to the nearest town with a Black high school. He found room and board and work as an apprentice cabinet maker (with a Black family), and finally graduated from high school at age 21. He knew that education was the best foundation for a better future.
I recall the local Black grocer, and plumber, and doctor whom we called to take care of our family. I recall our northern cousins sending hand-me-down clothing for their poorer relatives to wear to school next year. Families and neighbors looked out for one another (and disciplined neighborhood children) so that our children could have a better future.
The few college graduates in the community were examples and an encouragement to the next generation. The smart children in our classes were not accused of "acting white." We sent our best and brightest to run the gauntlet of Little Rock High School, and R.R. Moton High School to demand better facilities and investments in our children.
Families prayed and went to church together. It was unusual and an embarassment if an unwed girl or woman had a baby, and failed to live up to community standards for moral conduct. Now, 70% of our children are growing up in single parent households headed by women. There were school yard fights, but not parties that ended up with 16 year-olds dead.
I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE FUTURE!!!
I want a future with safe neighborhoods where children can go out to play without fear of drive-by shooters. I want to see fathers and mothers working together in strong families to ensure a better future for their children. I want to see dedicated teachers and parents working together to build better schools to prepare our children for college and a better future. I want to see thriving Black entrepreneurs providing jobs and building a strong economic based for community development.
Is this asking too much? Have we lost our way? Are too many of us hopelessly trapped in a permanent underclass? Can we stop the downward spiral and widening performance gaps? Lots of questions.
I believe that positive answers are churning behind the bright and fearless eyes of the young people I mentor. I believe the will to overcome the barriers confronting us has not been snuffed out like a candle, but still burns deep within us.
Black History Month reminds us of so many who have shown us how to succeed against tremendous odds. If a young boy can dream about overcoming odds to become a professional athlete, we need to show him that the odds are much better to become an engineer, or doctor, or entrepreneur. Let us make sure we share the lessons of hard work, sacrifice, and struggle to make their dreams come true.
Let's go back to the future where "We shall overcome" was more than a slogan, where it was a way of life. We have lots of strong shoulders to stand on. Let's use them to build a better future. Yes we can!
Roger Madison, CEO