Voices of the Elders – Quotes from Great African Americans Leaders that are Still Relevant Today

Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood 2
Reggie Fullwood 

by Reggie Fullwood

If anyone has ever read this column you will know that I can’t write an article without using a quote from someone of historical significance. It’s certainly not because I lack original thought, it’s more so because I love reflecting on the past and the relevance of the words and experiences from great leaders.

Although the year is 2018, it is scary how quotes from as far back as the Abolitionist Movement are still germane.
With that thought in mind – I pulled together some of my favorite quotes from past African American leaders. All quotes featured are not only applicable today, but are invaluable words of wisdom.

“The struggle is much more difficult now because racism is more entrenched and complicated,” said Angela Davis. We have moved light years ahead in this country and around the world as it relates to racism and overall race relations, but unfortunately bigotry and discrimination still exists and seems to be flourishing again.

Some may not want to believe it, but it’s true and Charlottesville was a simple microcosm of a much bigger challenge facing America. “Truth is powerful and it prevails,” said Sojourner Truth

Coretta Scott King said, “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.”

But tennis great Arthur Ashe said it best – “Racism is not an excuse to not do the best you can.”

“The burden of being black is that you have to be superior just to be equal. But the glory of it is that, once you achieve, you have achieved indeed,” said the Right Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Education is a central passion of mine. The need for African Americans to focus on education has been a recurring theme that cannot be ignored since slavery ended.

“Education is the sole and only hope of the Negro race in America,” said Booker T. Washington.

“Education remains the key to both economic and political empowerment. That is why the schools charged with educating African Americans have, perhaps, the greatest, the deepest challenge of all,” said Barbara Jordan, lawyer and Congresswoman.

Malcolm X said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

The great educator Benjamin Mays once said, “You have the ability, now apply yourself.”

Another central theme that blacks have dealt with throughout the years is our ability to overcome insurmountable challenges and achieve greatly.
Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
“Being a black man in America is like having another job,” said Ashe.
Lawyer and activist Eleanor Holmes once said, “Being black has made me sensitive to any group who finds limitations put on it.” I say amen to that notion. Because of the trials and tribulations that African Americans have endured I truly believe that those challenges have made me sensitive the plight of other minorities, poor people, gender issues and even gay rights.
“After I came home from the 1936 Olympics with my four medals, it became increasingly apparent that everyone was going to slap me on the back, want to shake my hand, or have me up to their suite. But no one was going to offer me a job,” said Jesse Owens.

But today in America, race or a person’s background can’t be used as a crutch as Arthur Ashe said. We all can achieve if we work hard. Someone once said, “You got to be Hungry!”

“Nothing is going to be handed to you. You have to make things happen,” said Olympic track star Florence Griffith Joyner.

So essentially, our forefathers have paved the way for the Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and Colin Powell’s of the world. So many people sacrificed and took risk to ensure equality and opportunity for us all.

Boxing Champ Muhammad Ali said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

And finally when I think about Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis it makes me contemplate the fact that we have come so far, but still have a long way to go. Whether you have a child or not, we all should be outraged by the senseless deaths of so many young black men.

Perhaps Dr. King said, it best, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Despite the challenges faced by African Americans, we have achieved greatly. Let’s continue to inspire young people and use the past as a critical reference tool towards building a better future.

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly,” said Langston Hughes.

Signing off from a Black History Program in Jacksonville, FL,

Reggie Fullwood

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