I have a friend who does an outstanding presentation to young Black American men. The title of his talk is, “What I would Tell You If I Were Your Father.” By the end of his talk, he is encouraging the young men that it is time to jettison the “Bling-Bling,” of all the superficial chains, rings, sagging pants, disrespectful and vulgar language for a new lifestyle. But unlike many other black leaders, he does not attack the young for their behavior, but instead tries to explain to them why they have a very negative mindset, one that is destructive and detrimental to their growth and demeaning to their culture. The basis of his approach is to reject the assumption made by many conservatives, both black and white, that the young black man’s behavior is of his own doing. That he is not the victim of centuries of an oppressive system, deliberately designed to destroy the black youth’s feelings of self-worth, of pride in who he is, and of the race and culture from which he comes.
But the conservatives are wrong. Two centuries of purposeful and vicious attacks on the most important principle in the growth for a healthy and positive young man, be it black or white or any other race, the belief in one’s self, is still being denied black youth in this country. But shame on us who have allowed this to happen. Shame on us who admire the negative portrayals of blacks in books, movies and on television. It is like we have come to the point that we get the same kind of enjoyment out of the negative images of the race, in the same manner that whites have gotten for over two hundred years. It is time for us to reverse this trend and change the paradigm. It is time for us to no longer be the exception, but instead to be exceptional. Let us begin to point out the great accomplishments of our race, and the exceptional men and women who have accelerated in their particular fields of endeavor. Let’s do something different for a change and take the high road, instead of settling for the ditch. We accomplish change by finding our blackness as a people and a culture. There is a war for the soul of our culture, and it calls for drastic steps from all who are concerned. Here are a few facts that we all can begin to share with our young; facts they need to know so they will know “they are somebody.”
They NEED TO KNOW that Blacks excelled as jockeys soon after the Civil War. The first winner of the Kentucky Derby was Jimmy Winfield. In fact, 15 of the first twenty-eight Derbies were won by Black jockeys. And the greatest jockey in the history of the sport was Isaac Murphy who won three Kentucky Derby races and 44% of all his races throughout his career.
They NEED TO KNOW that Jesse Owens embarrassed the German dictator Hitler who had claimed the German runners were invincible, but defeated them in the 100-yard-dash. In fact, Owens won four gold medals in the Olympics that year, proving that Black excellence was unstoppable.
They NEED TO KNOW Black exceptionalism does not end with sports, but can be found in academic circles also. There is no question that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois was the country’s most gifted scholar of the 20th Century. He was the first Black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a historian, sociologists, philosopher, novelist and all around brilliant thinker. Dr. Alain Locke, also a philosopher, attained Phi Beta Kappa status and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. He was the first Black Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and was known as the “Godfather of the Harlem Renaissance.” Jesse Fausett was the literary editor for Crisis Magazine during the Renaissance. She was the first Black female graduate from Cornell University and first Black woman to achieve Phi Beta Kappa status. Dr. Ralph Bunche became the first African American to win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward bringing peace in the Middle East in the late 1940’s. Dr. Angela Davis is an accomplished scholar who has taught at the University of California at Los Angeles and wrote many political tracts critical of the oppression Blacks have suffered in this country.
They NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans have been publishers since 1827 when Samuel Cornish and John Russwum published Freedom’s Journal. Frederick Douglass published North Star in 1847, Robert S. Abbott, the Chicago Defender in 1905 and Edwin Nathaniel Harleston, Pittsburgh Courier in 1907. Black Americans also published some very influential magazines. Dr. Du Bois was editor and publisher of the Crisis Magazine associated with the NAACP, Charles Johnson published Opportunity Magazine for the Urban League, John Johnson published Ebony and Jet, Earl Graves Black Enterprise and Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingswroth and Johnathan Blount founded Essence Magazine, first published in 1970.
They NEED TO KNOW that Black Americans were successful entrepreneurs and that they can accomplish the same. They need to read about the great businessmen in 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma. Blacks had built a self-sustaining infra-structure of businesses, led by the great John Stradford, the richest man on Black Wall Street. He owned the most luxurious 54 room hotel and it was said that it matched for beauty, extravagance and comfort any hotel in the state of Oklahoma. Laurel Stradford, his great granddaughter is presently working on publication of his memoirs, and when they are released they should be required reading in every Black high school in this country. Other business men and women included O. W. Gurley who owned property in Tulsa, John and Loulla Williams and Dr. Andrew Jackson, all a part of the successful business class on Black Wall Street. Tulsa was not the only city where Black businesses flourished, just the most glaring example of success.
The NEED TO KNOW categories are extensive and I could go on for pages writing about successful Black Americans whom we must begin to share with our youth. I know there are many different organizations that are doing that very task as I write. But we must do more and I will continue to write about the successes either on this blog or through future novels and anthologies. Hopefully, you all will do your part and together we can help our young find their Blackness from a very different perspective than what they have received over generations, from a racially biased education system.