The Bible says that “the poor will always be with us.” An similar statement is
that racism will always be with us. So, the question is, “What should we do
about it?” There are many ways to fight racism: you might march, protest,
complain, or beg the government for help. Some of these methods have worked well
in the past. However, I think the best and most effective weapon today for
fighting racism is excellence. Excellence will bring down more racial barriers
than all the marching and shouting in the world.
To develop the weapon of excellence, we must take advantage of all the
educational opportunities that are available to us. Even though the doors of
opportunity are not always opened equally to everyone, there are still ways to
be what you want to be, go where you want to go, and have what you want to have.
And it does not matter where you live, how poor you are. You still have the
ability to succeed. As long as you have your health and can think, success is
Accepting the fact that the doors of opportunity are not opened equally to
everyone, one thing that is equal for everyone is time. There is the same
number of hours in the day for all of us. How you use these hours is your choice.
You can use them on the playground or you can use them to play the books.
Playing on the playground might give you some hours of immediate enjoyment, but
playing the books will give you long-term gratification.
African Americans and other minorities can no longer use the excuses of being
poor or living in a bad neighborhood or small town to keep us from achieving
excellence through education. In some cases, the poorer you are the more
educational opportunities that are available to you. Poverty should not be an
excuse for not working up to your potential. No matter how poor you think you
are, there is always someone who is poorer.
Please do not be embarrassed by or ashamed of the size your home town. Many
individuals from small towns have become very successful and risen to the top of
their professions. If President Clinton can change his address from Hope,
Arkansas to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., then you know it is
possible to fulfill your aspirations, whatever they might be. President
Clinton’s rise to the top of his profession suggests to me that whether you are
a big time runner from New York City, or a guy who runs around the block in Fall
City, Washington, the formula for success in life is still the same. That
formula is hard work, dedication, determination, and a small amount of
recreation. Like any good recipe, some ingredients are more important than
others. If you are making a cake, you use a lot more sugar than salt. And if you
want to have a life of cake, hard work should be your sugar and recreation your
For those African Americans and other minorities who are attending mainly white
schools, you should use the scientific approach to problem solving. When
scientists and engineers solve problems, they always state what is given and
what is assumed. It can be given that a particular professor or teacher is
racist, or you can assume that he or she is a racist. Either way, you must find
a solution to the problem. I am not advocating in the classroom, but you should
choose the right weapon for the right occasion. In this case, making an “A” in
the course is the best weapon.
If you think racism is bad now, just imagine how things were 30 years ago. Every
time I hear someone mention how bad racism is today, I am reminded of a movie I
once saw, when a young black teenage boy and his grandfather were going to town
one morning in a small southern town. As the boy and his grandfather drove
through a stoplight, a policeman saw them run the light and pulled them over.
The policeman walked up to the car and asked: “Boy, why did you run that red
light?” The grandfather’s reply was, “Captain, I saw the white folks going on
the green light so I thought the red light was for us.” At least we have
progressed to the point that we can now go on the yellow light.
Let me restate, you should not let racism or any other kind of “isms” keep you
from being successful. Often you will hear some minority students at mainly
white schools make the statement, “If this place were not so racist I would do
better in school.” Our nation is way off of being successful, because all racism
will never be removed from our schools or society. The likelihood of this
happening is about the same as finding elephants roosting in trees. You should
remember that when you are educating the field to success, you will hit a few
rocks. Some of the rocks will be black, some will be white, and others will be
all colors in between. Regardless of whether the rocks are black or white, if
you want to cut a good harvest, you had better keep plowing. It is the seed you
scatter that decides what your harvest is going to look like. You cannot plant
corn and expect to harvest tomatoes.
Let’s face it everyone, many of you have not worked up to your full potential.
If the police were to arrest some of you today based on the effort you put into
your school work, they would have to release you due to a lack of evidence.
Academically, if you are going in the wrong direction, for whatever reasons, I
want you to know that it is not illegal to make a U-turn. As you view your
horizon, in your vision lie the problems of today and the successes of tomorrow.
What do you see?