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Life is complicated. Rules and practices designed to elevate some, suppress others. Qualifications to attain aspirations and expectations are spelled out in plain terms. But even when complied with to the letter, guidelines won’t always render promised rewards.

When Blacks get in the game, rules change; the goal post shifts. It’s frustrating. The last thing you need to hear is a litany of clichés urging you to keep your head up, to never give up, to never let them see you sweat, to try harder with each setback, to reject discouragement, to always remember no one can block what God has for you.

Individually, these admonitions ring of hollow rhetoric. Together, they lay foundation. But none are easy. As a matter of fact, if any man, woman or child tries to convince you there is a “silver bullet,” or panacea to eradicate all of the obstacles you will confront – and the impact disappointments will have on your journey – shun and dismiss anyone who claims to possess all the answers as a charlatan or a fraud whose purpose is deception.

Some people will make it their mission to throw every possible road block in your path. But don’t be confused, Class of ‘23. Though mountains won’t go away, God will give you strength and wisdom to climb them. Remember, God didn’t remove the Red Sea. He simply parted it for safe passage.

Most biblical miracles were born out of problems. Such is life. Don’t take my word for it. You have already clearly demonstrated what young people can accomplish when they show up and speak out. Only three years ago, as you were matriculating at various institutions of learning in the wake of a global pandemic, you endured not only the most epic health threat of the past century but an unprecedented explosion of demand for social justice.

You and your peers walked the streets day and night, shedding light on the vital concerns of the day. In the midst of that tsunami of consciousness, Americans in every state and tens of millions around the world resistant to racial injustice in the U.S. raised voices and cried aloud what most prior to the murder of George Floyd feared whispering, “Black Lives Matter.”

In response to the brutal slaying of Breanna Taylor, you challenged every corner of the world to: “SAY HER NAME!” Justice came more slowly but agitation spurred by your righteous indignation was relentless and people were held accountable.

The larger public was compelled to engage in uncomfortable conversations about bigotry and systemic racism. It was a rare occasion of serious dialogue on the virtues of anti-racist practices and policies. Some might want you to believe your work was for nothing, since these conversations have been relegated to the back burner lately, replaced by the hostile so-called Critical Race Theory debate and divisive “Cancel Culture.”

But you made a difference.

While it is true the news media is not devoting the same attention to racial matters today as it did two years ago, make no mistake about the impact and influence of your protests, whether on campus or in the streets. Because young people showed up and spoke out, by April 30, 2020, precisely three years ago this weekend, an extensive number of corporate and government commitments to change were made formal. For example:

  • Bank of America announced a $1 billion, four-year commitment to strengthen economic opportunities in “communities of color.”
  • PayPal committed $530 million to supporting Black-owned businesses, as well as bolstering its company diversity and inclusion policy.
  • Sephora beauty products signed a pledge to devote 15 percent of its shelf space to products from Black-owned businesses.
  • PepsiCo announced a five-year, $200 million initiative that includes increasing managerial representation by 30 percent and doubling the number of Black suppliers.
  • Adidas, which also includes Reebok, committed to filling 30 percent of new positions with Black and Latino workers.
  • NASCAR banned the use of confederate flags from appearing at all of its races.
  • Google set 2025 as a targeted date to achieve at least 25 percent Black representation on their executive team.
  • Netflix added a permanent “Black Lives Matter” genre celebrating the works of Black creators and Black history.
  • With only 14 opposing votes in the House of Representatives and a unanimous 99-0 vote in the Senate, Congress made JUNETEENTH a federal holiday.
  • Facebook pledged to spend at least $1 billion annually with diverse suppliers, including $100 million or more specifically earmarked for Black-owned suppliers.
  • Apple made a $100 million commitment that included $25 million to create the Propel Center, a global innovation hub for HBCUs to develop and support Black leaders.

You did that. Before you reach out for those diplomas and degrees, take a bow. Look at how much of an impact you and your peers have ALREADY made on society. Your persistence and resolve will continue to break down barriers and blaze pathways no one can thwart. You are destined for greatness. Step into it.

No matter how many stumbling blocks are tossed in your path, stay relentless in your pursuit of what is right and just. The more the system tries to hold you down, the more you will use your individual and collective intellect, your strength, and your compassion, guided by your uncompromising moral compass, to show up and speak out for change.

With the help of the Lord, you all are much too prepared, focused, determined and anointed to be denied.

One final thought for the Class of 2023. Take with you this word from the Lord in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

You have already made all of us proud, and the best is yet to come. God bless you, one and all, Class of 2023! You are our best hope! .

Vernon A. Williams
Vernon A. Williams

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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