By Vernon A. Williams
It is time to refresh the prism through which we view history. It is time to reexamine the narrative and become more strategic in the takeaways. It is time for a redefinition of what constitutes “history” and to reassess the most compelling imperatives of that framework.
For example, my guess is that GARY icons like Richard G. Hatcher, Pastor Robert Lowery, Attorney Hilbert Bradly, Publisher James T. Harris; and Gary schools leaders Dr. YJean Chambers and Dr. Haron J. Battle Sr., master teacher Frankie McCullough; as well as All-American George Taliaferro, education icons H. Theo Tatum and Bernard Watson; activists Dolly Millender and Art Daronatsy; along with business giant Mamon Powers Sr. and lawmakers like Katie Hall and Carolyn Mosby, were never obsessed with their legacy.
They were much too busy with the work of achievement, the constant challenges in sustaining progress, and ways in which to make their mark in life both transformative in bringing about change and transcendent in benefitting people other than themselves.
Likewise, I don’t believe CHICAGO stalwarts like media mogul John H. Johnson, Mayor Harold Washington, educator Marva Collins, spiritual leader Reverend Dr. Arthur M. Brazier; newspaper publisher Dorothy Leavell, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan or PUSH/Rainbow Coalition founder Reverend Jesse L. Jackson wasted precious time along their impactful journeys trying to envision their eulogy or how history would record their essence after they are gone (the last three are still making history every day).
Those at the cutting edge of meaningful historic thought and action in our society don’t endeavor at the outset of their pursuits to carve their historical niche. It is the last thing on the mind of those who achieve greatness. Their priorities are purpose and focus.
Moving southward to the Circle City or INDIANAPOLIS, greats like lawmakers Julia Carson and Bill Crawford; corporate giants Bill Mays and Madam C.J. Walker; community advocates Reverend Dr. Andrew Brown, Sam Jones and Reverend Charles Williams; musical genius Wes Montgomery, poet laureate Mari Evans, and Hall of Fame hoopster Oscar Robertson, were never driven by the potential for hyperbole, plaudits and accolades that might be heaped on them after their earthly demise.
Instead these individuals, as disparate as their paths and responsibilities may have been, shared common characteristics; they were oblivious to the status quo and unafraid to go beyond limitations imposed by themselves, society or others. Their mission was not merely to excel at playing, but to change the game.
They were obsessed with BETTER. They wanted to improve themselves, improve their communities or constituencies, and improve prospects for unborn generations.
They were not bound by the constant quest for consensus. Their actions were not gauged by either who would approve their course, or expedience. Instead, like all true leaders, they were consensus builders. They were not slaves to conventional thinking, they introduced ways of thinking that elevated the mindset of others.
And no, they were not bound to the roadmaps already established, you know – the safe routes on the road to success. As the poet Robert Frost suggested, they had the courage to opt for the road less traveled and, indeed, it made all the difference.
They didn’t seek a path of convenience or experience, they blazed pathways rife with uncertainty, pain and suffering. Comfort and affluence were nowhere near factors in their decision compared to conscience and the gratification of lifting as they rose. They didn’t look for a blueprint on which to build progress, they opted to follow dictates of the heart.
Black history is no longer about looking back for the sole purpose of celebrating ancestry, it is an illustration of the need for our constant recommitment to continue moving the needle forward. Our heritage is not a trophy to be on display for adoration, it is instead the seed with which we plant our principles; fertile soil that nourishes our possibilities.
Put simply, history is dysfunctional if we settle for it being glorification of what we have already done. That same history becomes a weapon for good when it is instead viewed as a minute measure of what Black people yet have the capacity to do. The true tribute to our rich ancestry is the relentless obsession to take Black achievement higher.
No matter what we have accomplished, the goal is to do better. No matter what contribution we have made to the good, the goal is to do better. No matter how important the roles we played in the greatness of America and beyond, the mission is to never settle but to embrace the will to reach that next level; the constant pursuit of excellence.
So, February is Black History Month, but we will continue functioning as though nothing could be more important than assuming roles as agents of change 365 days a year.
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].