Author Archives: Ronald Court

Trip, continued

by Ronald Court

      After New Haven on Thursday, it was on to Harlem in New York City to meet a man who happened on our website several months ago. He discovered the Booker T. Way then and has been championing it among friends and acquaintances ever since.
      He even stood up at his co-op meeting to read an editorial I had written that posed the question, “Is there a need for a Black History Month?” here.
      As he read the opening paragraphs aloud, some hasty listeners jumped to the conclusion that it (and he) were ‘against’ BTM and nearly caused a riot.
      So I was very much looking forward to meeting Mr. Herman Amos, a gentleman who risked his own safety to promote the Booker T. Way. He had even kindly taken the day off from work to show me around town.
      First stop of the day, The NY Public Library’s Schomburg Library on Malcolm X Blvd., up by 135th street in Harlem. To get a grounding in African-American (AA) history, this is a good place to start, …except that references to Booker T. Washington were notably absent. I hope to change that, but this is (at least momentarily) Charlie Rangel country, a man who represents (if anything other than his own self-interest) just about everything Booker T. Washington does not.
      Let’s be clear, Booker T. spoke to economic independence and good character, whereas “Representative” Rangel, long under investigation by the Ethics Committee, is a poster child for government dependence. I noticed a campaign sign in a store window that aptly sums up his strategy and perspective: “Charlie Rangel. He delivers.” It’s all about taking, not empowering.
      So there he was, Herman Amos, my guide for the day to NYC, and much more. I discovered “Striver’s Row” a street of elegant brownstones occupied by folks who clearly were enjoying the better life. Then on to the Abysinnian Baptist Church, built by Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee-trained students, and about whom its famous preacher, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. wrote a testimony to Booker T.’s educational philosophy here.
      From there to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace and finally, to meet Mr. Hector Torres, a gentlemen about to be the first charter member and leader of the Booker T. Club of New York City. Another outstanding individual (introduced by Mr. Amos to the Booker T. Way), and a man who put himself through college, built a career, and has gone on to exercise his entrepreneurial abilities by forming his own security training organization, an ideal candidate for forming and leading a Booker T. Club.
      I’m looking forward to working with Mr. Torres and Mr. Amos as they develop the Booker T. Club of New York City to encourage and equip young Americans to live, learn and lead the Booker T. Way.

Why We’re Not Post-Racial … yet.

by Ronald Court

A couple of Wall Street Journal articles, one from last November editorial and one today by Peggy Noonan indicate that the road we’re on to a post-racial society continues to be bumpy.
      Over time, ‘color’ will, hopefully and eventually, become a non-issue. (note: to be ‘color-blind’ is not to be ‘culture-blind.’ It is to acknowledge skin color as irrelevant in matters that count.)
      The common saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ applies, as both Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. attested.
      Still, some don’t ‘get it.’
      Last November Alabama Congressman Artur Davis voted against the health-care bill. He probably expected some grief from his fellow Democrats. But he was also accused of selling out his race.
      He was the only black Member to oppose the legislation, and his vote earned him a rebuke from Jesse Jackson at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation reception. “We even have blacks voting against the health-care bill,” said Mr. Jackson. “You can’t vote against health care and call yourself a black man.”
      When a politician’s skin color is gratuitously invoked in a debate about whether the government should have more control of health care, you have to wonder if some politicians are seriously interested in a color-blind society. Former President Jimmy Carter suggested that whites who oppose the President’s policies are racists; Mr. Jackson said blacks who oppose them are betraying their race.
      And just this past week, Shirley Sherrod was, “smeared by right-wing media, condemned by the NAACP and canned by the Obama administration” (and then offered her job back). Clearly, some folks, left and right, are simply too quick to infuse race into every issue.
      Ms. Sherrod showed real class in informing the folks at the NAACP meeting that it’s “really about those who have versus those who don’t”.
      It is a shame the media pounced on Ms. Sherrod’s out-of-context words. But perhaps even more so that the NAACP leadership and Obama administration were so quick to judge.
      It reminded me of Proverbs 15:14 “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.

First Trip of the Summer

I met the most amazing people last week… people who care about our youth and our country… on a 4-day trip that took me to Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

Thursday, at 6am: out the door to my 1st stop: New Haven, CT, home to Yale University and people blessed with opportunities others seem unable even to dream of.

But I was going to meet a couple at the Varick AME Zion Church, just one mile up the road from Yale: Wendy Tyson-Wood and her husband, Ken Cook.
The run-down appearance of the street the church is on, Dixwell Avenue, gives the immediate impression that this is where those without the dreams live. Yet Wendy and her husband are working to help the church develop its summer camp program into summer enrichment called ‘The Booker T. Washington Academy.’

In researching a curriculum to develop, Wendy came across the BTW Society website and saw how our ‘Booker T. Way’ could be the theme to motivate and tie it all together. They clearly have their hearts into creating a positive learning environment that will bring dividends in brighter, motivated students down the road… perhaps even to Yale!!

I was introduced to the kids in their program, from kindergarten to 7th grade, about thirty in all, and thrilled to see them setting our, ‘I CHOOSE’ motto and ‘Booker T. Way’ motivating principles to a rap beat and words written by Ms. Flake, their instructor.

To see our encapsulated version of Booker T.’s practical approach to education come alive through the energized voices of thirty children was exciting. I’m waiting for the video to show you.
And that was just the start of a great four-day trip. Stay tuned…

Preparing Children for Work

Note: I recently happened upon this My Turn article in our local daily, The Burlington (VT) Free Press. It strongly echoes the timeless values that Booker T. spent his life conveying to those who needed it most. When I called to request permission to publish here, I happily discovered that the author, Laury Tarver, attends my church!

By Laury Tarver
This past summer, my teenage son worked at a local farm stand. Dropping him off the first day, I saw him shake hands with his new boss. The gesture made me think of the valuable things work brings to life and the things we want our children to give to their work. I drove away smiling, thinking of all the years of parenting it takes to prepare a child for one handshake.

Work offers independence. When our children become part of the labor force, they move closer to independence and the ability to care for their future family. Unlike a loan or welfare which requires some relinquishment of power, wages promote self-reliance and control. My son was thrilled to receive his first paycheck and handled it with reverence. He read every word written on the front, back and paystub before carefully endorsing the check.

Work offers contentment and satisfaction. Providing a product or service that meets a need is gratifying. Physical labor makes our rest sweeter. We develop a sense of accomplishment when we master difficult tasks. My son was tired and dirty after working in the field, but eager to talk about washing hundreds of cucumbers or meeting interesting people who came to pick berries. Soon after showering, he was sound asleep on the couch or on the floor of his room.

Work presents opportunities for personal growth, new relationships and experiences. Because employment highlights our strengths and weaknesses, we can change the way we act and think. We become part of a community of people and experience new things. One of the most unforgettable summer jobs I had was working as the receptionist at the Jetsetter’s Salon in Clinton, Miss. The women welcomed me into their small-town beauty shop world, gave me advice on life and men, and surprised me with a going away party that included a gospel sing around the shampoo station.

Just as work adds value to life, our children should give value in return. To equip them, parents must consistently model and teach excellent character throughout the childhood years. A father reads Bible stories and fairy tales at bedtime to teach his son the qualities and consequences of good and bad character. Parents require a child to admit wrongdoing and make an apology to train him to be honest. A mother takes her daughter along to visit a sick friend or deliver food to a new neighbor to model kindness and compassion. To learn humility, we expect our sons and daughters to handle victory and defeat with equal grace. From teaching table manners to standing in honor of veterans, parents have an irreplaceable responsibility to cultivate excellent character — a quality found in exceptional employees.

Children must also learn the importance of hard work and persistence. We post chore charts on the refrigerator and teach children to make their beds and pick up toys to demonstrate responsibility. Parents monitor television, computers and cell phones to train children to put duty before personal agenda. We struggle when our children face challenges, but encourage them to stick with commitments and keep trying. Parents resist rescuing children from the consequences of their choices so that they take ownership of their lives. Through diligent parenting, we develop the hard work, persistence and decision-making ability seen in exceptional employees.

Parents get weary and discouraged. We wonder if the things we do and the words we say make a difference. Yet, when we witness a handshake moment, it makes the parenting years worthwhile. Those young hands offered contain the sum of all our efforts and the possibility of something exceptional.

Laury Tarver of Essex is a mother of two teenagers and leads parenting classes at a crisis pregnancy center in Burlington.

Booker T Washington for the Nobel Peace Prize

Think about it.
The 14th Dalai Lama received the Nobel in 1989. He led 2.6 million – but lives in exile.
The Dalai Lama’s philosophy (meaning of life): “To be happy and useful.”

Booker T. led over 3 million – and never exiled himself.
Booker T’s philosophy was to live a useful life and overcoming adversity.

Of course he won’t get it. But he deserved it nevertheless.

Too Many People Go To College

Issues & Views Editor Elizabeth D. Wright has graciously allowed us to reprise timeless articles from her Newsletter. This article suggests that it’s time to reconsider the benefits of a practical, entrepreneurial education.

by Leon Podles

Despite today’s worship of the college credential, most real wealth in our society is still gained not through education and the professions but through entrepreneurial activity. Higher education as it now exists in America simply doesn’t develop the qualities of initiative and aggressiveness necessary to succeed in business. Often it undermines them.

American education can be particularly inhospitable to males. Patricia Sexton in The Feminized Male shows how energetic and assertive boys are punished because they cannot function in classrooms taught by women wl assume that the quiet, non-physical behavior of a girl is the only type prop to school. Active boys consequently often do poorly in school. This is an especially massive problem in America inner cities, where the boys grow t with fewer civilizational restraints c their innate male natures.

Few of these overactive boys will ever become great successes in a world of conventional academic schooling They could excel and become productive citizens, however, if directed instead toward work, practical vocation and business. Consider that when teacher describes a student as aggressive or physically active, she is saying he is a problem. But if a businessman or trades employer describes a worker as aggressive, he is paying a compliment.
The most aggressive boys have always gone into business. Today, the poor ones often end up dealing drugs.

Boys who go the legitimate route, however, can end up being very productive indeed. In 1995, the U.S. Trust Company surveyed a sample of America’s biggest earners and found that less than half of them had completed college, while 29% never went at all. Instead of learning to conform to academic expectations, they were out adding value, making products, and earning money—in ways that are not taught in schools today.

(from: I & V summer ’95; orig: American Enterprise: Sep/Oct, ’95)

Black History Month – Yadda Yadda

by Ronald Court

When famous soprano Leontyne Price was hailed by an opera critic as, “perhaps the greatest black opera singer of all time, ” she responded with, “What’s black got to do with it?”

Exactly.

Her fierce dedication, discipline, training and hard work – in a word, her character – not color,  defined her.

Yet news & feature editors around the country today are still rummaging through their archives for old columns to recycle in commemoration of February as “Black History Month.”

Expect articles on the usual suspects:  Frederick Douglass, WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., and my favorite, Booker T. Washington. Still, it seems a bit patronizing to ‘commemorate’ one month in twelve to a few famous people who happen to be of a particular race.

Maybe it’s time to emphasize color less and character more.

According to John Adams, the American Revolution occurred in the hearts and minds of the American people years long before shots were fired at Concord and Lexington. He saw the War for Independence as merely an “effect and a consequence” of the real American Revolution.

Similarly, the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency is merely the “effect and a consequence” of changes that occurred in the hearts and minds of people over several years (decades) leading up to the election. Note also that Michael Steele, a black American, was just elected to lead the Republican Party. Both events underscore that America has at last entered a post-racial age.

It is not how we look, but how we live that defines us.

Maybe it’s time to emphasize color less and character more.

Though Dr. King’s dream that people not be judged on the basis of color has been realized, his dream had a second part: that people be judged on the content of their character. In this, he echoed the practical vision and teachings of Booker T. Washington. When it comes to character, Booker T. wrote the book. Literally. His book, “Character Building,” a compilation of Sunday evening talks he gave to Tuskegee students is online and free for download at www.BTWsociety.
Sadly, much of Dr. Washington’s timeless wisdom and plain advice has been ignored by too many for too long. And we all, to one degree or another, suffer the consequences.

If, as WEB DuBois wrote a century ago, “the problem of the twentieth century (was) the problem of the color line,” what will be the problem of the twenty-first century?
The economy? Terrorism? Global warming? Political corruption? Reasonable people may differ as to the degree one presents a more “clear and present danger” than another. But these terms merely describe the effect and consequences – not the cause – of the actions taken by multitudes of individuals.
Each of these problems have at their root, a failure of character by individuals.  Thus, the problem of the twenty-first century will likely be the problem of the ‘character line.’

If the solution to the problem of the color line lay in emphasizing civil rights, I humbly suggest that the solution to the problem of the character line will lay in emphasizing personal responsibility.
Rather than “black history month,” why not, say, “character month?” Though the temptation to have government attempt to change society from the top down will always be with us, history shows that the slower way, by changing the hearts and minds of men and women from the inside out is the only true, lasting way.

This is real hope and change we can believe in.

Sobering Statistics for the New Year

By Ronald Court

Only six hours into the new year, Chicago has its first of several hundred annual homicides. Preliminary police records indicate that in 2008, there were 508 Chicago homicides, up from 442 in 2007.

Those numbers don’t speak very highly of the twenty-years of work as Chicago’s vaunted “community-organizer,” soon to be our nation’s President. We sincerely pray that he does better with the vastly more difficult responsibilities he will assume in his new job.

He might consider the lessons taught by an earlier ‘community organizer’ with a far better track record, even while operating under the view of hateful white racists as well as resentful black racialists. Like Barack Obama, Booker T. spoke eloquently and inspired millions, but he placed little faith in government to ‘do the right thing’ – at least for that times’ near and intermediate future. Rather, he exhorted his audience to develop practical skills and improve their conduct in ways that ultimately, he foresaw, would be recognized and valued. History has shown that his approach works.

He spoke out against and tracked lynching rates, which brings me back to Chicago’s homicides, To put it in perspective, the most lynchings ever recorded in one year (1892) was two-hundred thirty (230). Of these, 69 were white, 161 were black. Nationwide. Adjust for population today and control for black-on black homicides, and lynching pales.

In these few weeks before his inauguration, Barack Obama would do well to learn to emulate the life and methods of fellow ‘community organizer,’ Booker T. Washington.