"Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong. "
– Ella Fitzgerald
As an educator, storyteller and author, I draw upon the challenges and joys of my upbringing in a segregated community to help inspire others to be a force for good in the world. Whether I'm serving as a mentor to youth, engaging in public speaking and conversations with the community or publishing, I strive to apply the values of my upbringing and share with others how they can apply those values in their own lives.
BUILDING A STRONG FOUNDATION
Growing up on a family farm in a tightly knit African-American community in rural Mississippi provided me with love, inspiration and a strong foundation. There, I learned nine core values rooted in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: Improvisation, resiliency, community, spirituality, emotional vitality, humor, healthy suspicion, transcendence and overcoming adversity.
FINDING MY SAFE HAVENS
Make no mistake, there was certainly adversity to overcome. Life became much harder for our family after 1964, when my mother passed away and we sold our 160 acres of land. I moved into town and found safe havens in what were then known as the "colored" YMCA and library. In 1968, I graduated high school and began community college and worked with several friends at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken.
NAT TURNER: THE TURNING POINT
Suddenly, life changed. While I continued to attend community college and work at KFC, my manager grew increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I was attaining a post-high school education. One day, he found a copy of a Nat Turner biography I was reading and threw it into the toilet. I realized my days in Mississippi were over.
LEAVING THE GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI PAST
With relatives and friends in Seattle, I decided to make the journey West. I was part of the Second Great Migration, one of 6 million African-Americans who left the south between 1940 and 1970 for urban centers in other parts of the country. Although most moved to the Northeast and Midwest, some, myself included, moved to major cities in the West.
MOVING UP IN THE WORLD
I left for Seattle in a Greyhound bus. Six months later when I came back to visit friends in Mississippi I traveled, for the first time in my life, on a plane. I was literally moving up in the world. After earning my master's degree in political science at the University of Washington in 1971, I was on the move again.
JOINING A SELECT GROUP
For the next two decades, I moved across the country for the sake of completing my higher education. In 1995, the year I earned my Ph.D. in political science, I was part of a select group. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, that year only 2.2 percent of all master's or higher degrees awarded in the United States were awarded to African-American males.