It’s almost sunrise, are you ready? Because: When they said it could not be done, we said, why not. When they said we’ve come as far as we can go, we took another step. We have never been confined by boundaries. We have always believed there are possibilities. We have an unwavering belief in ourselves and what we can accomplish. We fly upon the wings of our dreams and achieve what few would even dare dream. Are you ready to join us? Are you ready to let go of what you have been taught to believe and start believing in yourself? Are you ready to believe that you are only confined by the boundaries you make up in your mind? Are you ready?
Do you even know, or do you just accept that you can’t do it?
Greatness is never just handed to someone. The truly great learn from their failures and forge ahead. They do allow themselves to be discouraged; they pay no attention to those who are quick to point to their failure as a reason to give up hope. They are not afraid to get back up and look for a new way to succeed because they believe that they have it within themselves to achieve anything that they put their minds to. With each lesson learned, they add another rung to the ladder, a ladder that eventually will take them to their desire destination. A ladder that will lead them to a place where eagles soar.
So I ask again tell me why you can’t soar as well?
To paraphrase Morpheus of The Matrix: Do you think that my opinion has anything to do with who you are and what you can accomplish? Too often in life, we let others define us instead of defining who we are ourselves. Only we truly know who we are and what we want. Only we can unlock our true potential by believing in ourselves. Only we know if we have the dedication to achieve our goals through hard work and preserve when the journey gets hard. It is in defining ourselves that we establish a set of rules for how we will proactively act to create opportunities to better ourselves, and once those opportunities present themselves, how we will instinctively work to achieve our goals, no one can do that for us but ourselves. Some will look at the stars you reach for and think you have bitten off more than you chew. That’s alright; let them they don’t know the potential that lies within you, and their opinion has nothing to do with who you are and what you can accomplish.
If you are taught to believe the best way to live your life is to live it in black and white, staying within the lines to fit in, you have not been provided with a roadmap to excellence but directions to a life of the ordinary. Some chose to live their life in full color splashed across the canvass. They have decided to walk the path leading to greatness. They asked why settle? Why paint within the lines when there is so much more I can accomplish by stepping out? They are not afraid of society’s judgemental eye. They refuse to settle and deprive themselves of the possibility that there are limitless opportunities. They will not let society judge them. They wholeheartedly believe that only you can judge yourself. Only you can decide if you have the confidence within yourself to reject fear and open your mind to new possibilities. They understand that with possibilities comes growth, and without growth, there is no reason to dream. Instead, you end up accepting being ordinary neither bold enough to dream of a better future or seize upon the opportunity at the moment. If you had the chance to join them, would you? Could you?
As I sat on my deck, I noticed a gentle mist had started, but I didn’t get up. Instead, I sat there admiring the trees and grass. When I was young, there were no trees, no grass to look at. It was just block after block of concrete. That time seems so long ago now, I guess I thought to myself, as the mist turned into a drizzle, I made it. Everyone thought I was living in a dream world, that if I didn’t give up these crazy dreams, I would never amount to anything, and they were all too quick to point out each time I failed, and I failed a lot. But there was one person who believed in me, kept pushing me, and encouraging me never to stop chasing my dreams. That person was me.
For as long as I could remember, I believed that I was born to be unique, to stand out from the crowd. While the masses would march to the drummer’s beat, I would salsa to Tito Puente’s rhythm. Now ironically, the same people who told me I would never make it ask me what my secret of success is. I laugh to myself and tell them I always knew that greatness was in me I just had to work hard, push myself, never give up, reject the fear of failure and not let anyone take away my dreams. Right then, my 6-year-old son called out to me, “Daddy, it’s raining. Come inside.” I looked at him and smiled as I said, “it’s ok, your Daddy never gets caught in the rain because he learned how to soar above the clouds.”
The road to happiness and inner peace begins when you free your mind from the limits that society has conditioned it to believe in and realize when you start following your dreams, your possibilities are endless.
Drug dealers, gang bangers, fatherless, welfare-dependent prisoners are some of the images that the media bombard us with. When faced with these images daily, many of us begin to accept them and have lower life expectations of ourselves. In essence, we are letting the stereotypes of others define who we are rather than defining ourselves. The positive images of African Americans is often that of athletes and hip hop stars, implying that there are limited roads to success within the African-American community. Protest against social injustice by African Americans stars is spun as unpatriotic and done by individuals who are fortunate that society has given them so much. Notice I said given, not earned, because, for many, the thought of the African American working hard and earning their position in society is a foreign concept. As Carter G. Woodson said, “to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.”
1984 brought us the Cosby Show centered on the lives of the fictional Huxtables obstetrician Cliff his lawyer wife Claire, and their children Sondra, Denise, Vanessa and Rudy, and son Theo. The show was unique in that not only did it depict an upper-middle-class African American family, we had seen that before on shows such as The Jeffersons, but one that not one but two professionals headed the family. They were portrayed as merely a family residing in Brooklyn, not an African American family, merely a family. They were not the exception to the rule; instead, they were just another successful family. The Huxtables showed us that African Americans could be successful and be mothers and fathers who have children who attend college because it isn’t that what all kids do when they graduate high school. They were the embodiment of what all American families, white and black, strive to be.
2008 brought us Barack Obama, who, against all odds, became America’s first African American President. Something many of us believed we would never live to see. He was a highly educated man of color and a dedicated husband and father. While in office, some media outlets looked to marginalize his accomplishments, question his citizenship and disintegrate his character. Still, thanks to his magnetic personality and superior oratory skills, President Obama overcame media attempts to downplay or mischaracterize him. He represented himself with a class and dignity rarely seen by a politician and won respect and admiration not only from Americans but worldwide. His wife Michelle, a strong, educated, beautiful woman of color, so much so that the thought of her running for President today does not seem out of the realm of possibility, was also at times a victim of certain media outlets attempt to paint the Obama’s in a poor light. But like her husband, she too possessed a magnetic personality and superior oratory skills, which easily allowed her to deflect any negativity aimed at her. The Obama’s represented what is possible for all African Americans. No longer was it a fantasy to tell your child they could grow up to be President because it has been accomplished and accomplished with dignity and class.
2018 brought us the hugely success Marvel movie Black Panther. Movie theaters were packed with people of color, young and old, men and women, some who hadn’t been to a movie in years. They left the theater not only entertained by the film itself but with a pride of their culture. Wakanda, after all, was undeniably African. Its citizens are highly educated, and its women are depicted as strong and beautiful, its men strong and dedicated to family. Wakanda forever became a calling card of many because the imaged world of Wakanda represented a look at what African Americans could be. That we could fly above the clouds and achieve greatness.
One cannot quantify the impact the positive images of these fictional and non-fictional African Americans have had on the African American community. Still, it has no doubt allowed some of us to dream of possibilities to consider what we can accomplish regardless of our skin color. This begs the question of the responsibility of successful African Americans in giving back to their community. For many successful African Americans, success is often measured by moving out of their community into a predominantly white neighborhood. Leaving behind many of those they used to associate with in exchange for new friends who are predominantly white, rejecting much of the culture they were raised in to fit their new surroundings better. They reject African American businesses citing their supposed inferiority to that of businesses run by others. It as Carter G Woodson said, “Negro banks, as a rule, have failed because the people, taught that their own pioneers in business cannot function in this sphere,
Ironically, Harlem, one of the bastions of African American culture, has in recent years seen a renaissance not as the result of successful African Americans returning but to an influx of white people. Unfortunately, as this great community strengthens, African Americans are pushed out.
So is it truly the responsibility of the thriving African American too, as Lebron James said in his 2017 ESPY awards speech, “go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them.” In this writer’s opinion, the answer is an unequivocal yes. As each successive generation serves as positive role models and mentors, invests in the building of a prosperous and robust infrastructure that employs those in the community and affords the children of those adults the opportunity to attain a quality education, the foundation is put in place where success is not seen as the exception but the norm. The perception of the African American image within ourselves changes from one that is not worthy to one who is exceptional and has unlimited opportunities before them. As Fredrick Douglas said, “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.”
The building of this thought process will not come easy as Carole Mosley-Braun so pointedly put it “Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face” and as Malcolm X once said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” The African American can not wait for others to “save” us, build up our communities, employ our men and women, educate our children, and, most importantly, pass down the history of our many accomplishments. The African American must act from within to achieve these goals. We must set the groundwork so that. Each succeeding generation grows up with the belief as the 1970’s slogan said Black is Beautiful. That they shout from the mountain tops what James Brown once sang, I’m black, and I’m proud. That they define themselves and not let others define them.
We gather here today to say goodbye, but we do not grieve their departure; we look back fondly and remember that were it not for them, we would not possess the strength and the courage to tackle all the adversity we have encountered and to overcome the many obstacles that have been placed in our way, to move forward with determination and a belief that we will get it done. So while fear and self-doubt are no longer with us, we can now appreciate while we may have been afraid of failure and didn’t believe we could achieve something, we tried, and when we failed and didn’t succeed, we didn’t wither away. We simply tried again, and with each attempt, our fear and self-doubt faded until it had birthed within each of us a belief that we are fearless, and we have no doubt in who we are and what we can achieve.