― Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune
Growing up, my hero, apart from my mother and grandmother, was Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. She was a trailblazer in the field of educational advocacy for Black children in her era. She understood the power of education and committed her life to creating academic opportunity and civic empowerment for Black youth. She used her vision to change countless lives. I think what impressed me the most about her was that she was undeterred by the views or prejudices of others.
She was an educator, civil rights pioneer, political strategist, college president, hospital administrator, social activist, presidential cabinet member, philanthropist, and missionary, among other things. Despite growing up in abject poverty, having her education withheld from her because of the color of her skin, being rejected by potential employers because of her ethnicity and countless other hurdles, she refused to be limited by others or placed in a box. And she refused to accept the limitations others tried to place on her community and what they could achieve.
Ultimately, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune had faith--an unrelenting, unchanging, supernatural faith, even when things were bleak. Today, we need to look to women of faith like Dr. McLeod Bethune for guidance and inspiration. She believed that no matter how desolate the night, joy would come in the morning. And it did for her and the scores of lives she changed. And it will for us.
- Kimberley Baker Guillemet
Since my book, Black Prep, was published, I’ve received wonderful feedback and expressions of gratitude from readers who say that the book helped them or a loved one on their journey as they navigated elite spaces. In addition to the positive feedback, I’ve also gotten the question, “Why?” “Why would you write a book where you would expose yourself?” “Why were you so honest?” “Why would you disclose your vulnerabilities to the world?”
My answer is this: I believe with all my heart that when we are able to navigate difficult terrain successfully, we owe it to others to share with them the wisdom that we learned along the way. We must pay it forward. When we are blessed, we should be willing to be a blessing to others.
Despite the truth that no one walking this planet is perfect, we often see that people who are in positions of authority and power in our society are lauded as if they are. Their flaws are ignored. Their missteps are glossed over. Their mistakes are recast as victories. The world seeks to somehow justify the harm they cause and turn a blind eye to the pain that others have suffered at their hands.
As a person who has been able to achieve some measure of success in this world, I have to be honest that I did not get here by being perfect. In fact, I am nowhere near it. And I would be remiss if I pretended that I was because I would be perpetuating a lie that would only go to discourage other people who may see themselves in me and who may want to set out to achieve or surpass goals similar to mine. Who am I to masquerade as though I’ve made no missteps? What good would that do? If anything, it would promulgate the lie that people who have made mistakes are excluded from opportunity because of their imperfection.
Another reason why I choose to be so authentic is because I know that if I am not honest and forthcoming about the challenges I have had to face along my journey, I would place people under the false impression that I had not encountered any; that I had an unobstructed path to achievement. Who am I not to tell them the truth? And the truth is that everything won’t be easy. There will be hard days. Sometimes the hurdles will be enough to make you want to quit. All of those feelings are real and valid and should be acknowledged, but any person who experiences them should not take those feelings as a sign that they are incapable of achieving the goals they have set out to achieve. Being fully human does not mean one is not fully capable.
Image is based on perception; it is not reality.
The reality of my life is that I have chinks in my armor, scars from deep wounds, insecurities and flaws, but that all of that notwithstanding, I have been able to have a fruitful life. If by not concealing my flaws and mistakes, I can inspire some other imperfectly unique and textured human being to reach for their destiny, then I have accomplished something far greater than my own finite achievements ever could. I have planted a seed that will grow and live on after me.
- Ruth Soukup
As we begin Women’s History Month, I am astounded when I reflect on the scores of unsung heroines who have changed our world. Women, who were all too often relegated to the fringes of the annals of American history until the latter part of the 20th century, have consistently been at the epicenter of change. Our World Changer of the Month for March, Claudette Colvin, is no exception. In 1955 at the age of 15, Colvin refused to give up her seat for a young white female passenger on a public bus. She effectively, in the words of her pastor, “brought the revolution to Montgomery.”
However, for decades, Ms. Colvin was relegated to the fringes of history by men at the helm of the civil rights movement who preferred to utilize the image of Rosa Parks for various reasons, including their determination that her class, marital status, skin color, hair texture and other characteristics made her a more desirable test case. Parks was the type of lady who complemented the image of the well-dressed alpha male icons that dominated the civil rights movement headlines at that time.
But Claudette Colvin, the first person in Alabama to refuse to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, was not a man; nor was she a middle class, professional, married woman. And by her own account, her decision to resist compliance with a racist law, was motivated by two civil rights icons who had walked the earth long before her, neither of whom were men; nor were they women from a preferred social stratum. Colvin later recalled in an interview that she felt the spirits of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman telling her to remain in her seat and compelling her to resist.
We can learn a great deal from Claudette Colvin, a young Black woman without resources or connections, but with the special ingredient that mattered most: courage.
In the words of author and speaker Ruth Soukup, “Courage doesn't mean we are never afraid, courage is simply daring to take action, despite our fear.” Ms. Colvin was scared to remain in her seat, but she did it anyway.
Is there something that you feel you need to do? Something that is scary and that will force you to traverse uncharted territory? Something that you’ve been putting off because you’ve convinced yourself that someone like you can’t achieve something like that? If so, please remember Claudette Colvin, the scared, 15-year-old girl from the wrong side of the tracks who started a revolution by doing it anyway.