African American Success Stories: Family, Education And Mentorship Essay Example
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Successful African-Americans come from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, their success stories share some common themes, including an emphasis on the important of education, strong family support and values, hard work, tenacity, mentorship, responsibility, and passing on to other generations. African-Americans experienced racism, poverty and a lack of opportunities. To become successful, create positive change and social justice required more than talent and hard work. It required a supportive family, educational opportunities and mentorship from older and more experienced person.
For a variety of reasons, there have not been many African American quarterbacks in the NFL. One football historian began an article mentioning that “the history of black quarterbacks in professional football is complicated” (Stuart). There were not many African-American QB’s until Warren Moon changed this in the 1980’s, when he became one of the most successful players in NFL history. Moon grew up in Los Angeles, California, as the middle child of six sisters ("Moon, Warren 1956–."). His father was a construction worker who died when Moon was only seven. His mother was a nurse and Moon had to take care of his family. He only played one sport so he could work part-time and learned to cook and take care of the house. He decided early on that he could play only one sport in high school because he had to work the rest of the year to help the family. It is clear he learned responsibility from an early age, and his family was very important to him. His mother “worked hard and saw that they were provided with educational and cultural advantages. Warren grew up with strong moral values” (“Warren Moon). Moon believes that there were stereotypes and racism against black quarterbacks and as a result he has been mentoring younger players (Polzer).
One player that has a close relationship with Moon is Russell Carrington Wilson, who is a quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson comes from a much different background than Moon. His father was a football star at Dartmouth, tried out with the San Diego Chargers, and became a prominent attorney ("JockBio: Russell Wilson Biography" ). Russell was raised in an athletic household, and was quarterback at the University of Wisconsin. Wilson signed a four-year contract with the Seattle Seahawks and was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 2012. The next year he led the Seahawks to its first Super Bowl championship. Wilson comes from a family that instilled in him the idea that success comes from hard work, and involves accomplishment both on and off the field. In college, he had enough credits to graduate before his senior year. He was also both a baseball and football star, like his father. He also has interest outside of sports, including business and law, which he plans to pursue after his athletic career is over. His success involves a strong family dynamic, supportive siblings and natural talent.
There is another factor that contributes to the success that Wilson has enjoyed – mentorship (Bell).Wilson had a strong mentor in Moon, who works with the Seahawks and the two developed a relationship that allows Moon to pass on important knowledge and first hand experience to the younger Wilson (Bell). Warren Moon also mentors other African American quarterbacks, including Cam Newton. From the examples of Moon and Wilson, it is clear that strong family values, hard work and mentorship engenders success. A mentor is not only an inspiration, and role model, they can also provide valuable guidance and insights, enabling the mentee to learn from both the mentor’s successes and failures. This mentor-mentee relationship is a huge part of African-American success stories.
During the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s, there were numerous African-American leaders who risked their own lives to fight for equality and justice. Medgar Evers is an example of a person who would not admit defeat, no matter what. Evans was assassinated by a white supremacist in 1963, during the middle of the civil rights era. Despite having his life cut short, Evans left a remarkable legacy. As a civil rights activist, he organized voter-registration drives, boycotts of companies that practiced discrimination and was involved in the famous protests to end segregation at the University of Mississippi. He grew up poor on a farm in Mississippi, but fought bravely in WW2 and used the G.I. Bill to attend college. Evers believed education was essential for success. When he was denied entry into law school, he fought back, and sued for fair admission practices (“Medgar Evans”).
His lawyer, was Thurgood Marshall, who also believed in the power of education to help create a more equal society, and became a Supreme Court judge in 1967. His father was a railway porter and his mother was a teacher. Marshall attended high school in Baltimore and was one of the best students in the city. He then attended Lincoln University. He wanted to become a lawyer and was know as a “partier,” with classmates jazz musician Cab Calloway and poet Langston Hughes. (Williams 22). However, he gradually became interested in civil rights and politics. Family was also important to Marshall, and when he got married he really settled down and started to take scholarship seriously. (William 34-35). Because of segregation, he was not able to go to many law schools, and attended the traditionally black Howard University School of Law. This experience led him to represent Evers and other students looking for equal educational opportunities. As a Supreme Court Justice, he was respected and known for being pragmatic and effective (O’Connor). Marshall and Evers realized that family contributed to success, but you also needed a good education to succeed.
When Evers, Marshall and other civil rights pioneers opened the doors to university, the first African American student at the newly desegregated University of Mississippi was James Meredith, who went on to become a civil rights leader (“James Meredith –Biography”). Meredith, like Evers, used the military G.I. Bill to get into college. He applied to the school and was denied twice. He then sued and got the advisement of Medgar Evers. In 1962, he was successful, and became the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, which was a critical and pivotal point in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Like Evers, Meredith put his life on the line for his beliefs. He was shot during a solo 220 mile protest march, which sparked outrage and intensified the strength of the movement. Today, there is a statue monument of Meredith on the University of Mississippi campus. The Civil Rights movement was successful because of mentorship. Marshall mentored Evers, who when on to mentor Meredith. There was a “pay it forward” effect, and a shared responsibility to contribute to their communities.
Some successful African-Americans come from really humble or disadvantaged background, but not only are they successful, but they tell their stories as an inspiration to others who may be going through a similar struggle. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was a scholar and playwright who wrote "From the Mississippi Delta," which was a story about growing up poor in the Jim Crow South. Holland was the victim of sexual abuse and was forced into prostitution to support her impoverished family. She had many obstacles and what she called “African-American inferiority complex” (Fox). She said she was "always conscious of our inferiority, until the civil rights movement came" (Fox). As a teenager, Holland accidently wandered into a civil rights office, and saw black women writing at typewriters, which inspired her to volunteer and become a part of the Civil Rights Movement, which was the beginning of her education. Eventually, she worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., and was a very strong protestor who was not afraid to fight or go to jail. She was jailed more than a dozen times. After the Civil Rights Movement, she attended the University of Minnesota, and became a respected academic scholar and a “beloved teacher” (Fox), mentoring many young students and encouraging them to follow in her footsteps.
Margaret Walker was another African American woman who used the written word and education to communicate the struggles and successes of African Americans.
She was an award-winning poet, novelist, college educator, and activist. According to her biography, she was a mentor to many prominent African American writers and to freshman college students alike. Much of her writing is about influences, support and mentorship (Brown). She was inspired by her parents, grandmother, teachers and civil rights leaders. Writer Richard Wright was one her major mentors and influences. (Brown 44).
The importance of family and background play an important part in African-American success stories. Like Holland, Dr. Jane McAllister also grew up in Mississippi, which was a racist society with very few opportunities for African-Americans. However, McAllister was part of the small African-American middle class. Her father was a mailman, and her mother was a teacher. As a result, her upbringing was more stable. Like Thurgood Marshall, McAllister was an outstanding student. She was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University. She focused on sharing her knowledge, and also became an academic, teaching education and psychology. She became a role model for African-American woman who wanted to enter the world of academia, or just to pursue an intellectual career (“Jane McAllister – Bio”).
Along with teaching, many African-American success stories revolve around public service and giving back to their communities. Larry Gossett is a city councilman in the Seattle area and has been a long time politician and civil rights activist. He was went to Harlem as a civil rights volunteer in the 1960’s and formed the first Black Student Union at the University of Washington (“Larry Gossett). Gossett followed in the footsteps of Evers, Marshall, and Meredith, and his focus was on ending academic discrimination and increasing minority college enrollment. Education is power, and by enabling African-Americans to access education, Gossett is working on practical ways to promote African-American success. Moreover, he is interested in increasing racial equality for everyone, and was part of the “Gang of Four”, which were four politicians in Seattle from different racial backgrounds that worked together to promote positive outcomes and social justice for minorities. For example, they fought for programs that help inner-city youth and to end injustices in the criminal courts that unfairly prosecuted minority defendants.
African-American success stories share common themes. Family is important.
Warren Moon only played one sport and learned to cook and clean to support his family. Holland turned to prostitution as the only way to help feed her family. Other African-Americans came from more middle class backgrounds, like Marshall and McAllister. They benefitted from the support of strong family values, which they used not only to get a great education, but to also give back to their communities. This is another major theme found in all the biographies of successful African-Americans – mentorship. Giving back often involves supporting, guiding and teaching younger people, who can learn from the mentors successes and failures. Each leader paved the way for successive generations. Marshall legally represented Evers, who advised Meredith so he could gain admission to the University of Mississippi. Later, Gossett carried on their struggle for increased African-American access to education. African-American women writers were not only active in the civil rights movement, they also wrote personal biographies and groundbreaking novels that inspired generations. They also turned to academic environments where they could mentor and inspire new generations of writers and citizens. Talent, hard-work and courage played a huge role in the success of many African-American leaders. Often, as in the case of Evers and Meredith, their ambition and responsibility led to grave threats to their own safety, including death. It must have also taken a great deal of courage for someone like Holland to leave behind a life of prostitution and enter the academic environment of a university. These values, courage, education, mentorship, family, responsibility to community and hard work, all contributed to the success of these individuals and the progress of American racial equality.
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