I opened my eyes very early the morning of February 3, 2006. My family informed me that the 6½ hour surgery had gone very smoothly. “They got all the cancer!” my wife said with a smile. I had only been away from them for a few hours, but it felt like several months.
Thirty staples reconnected the tissue from my stomach up to my sternum. My esophagus had been removed, my stomach stretched and reorganized, and I was receiving all my food through a feeding tube. Just six months before (August 2005), I had been given only a 15-20% chance of survival unless I went through a very sophisticated combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
This surgery was like making it to an oasis in the desert. If done well, my survival prospects would quadruple. Today, I am almost a year from the surgery with growing optimism that I will live a long and healthy life.
But what about my nation?
I am excited about making several New Year’s resolutions this year. My commitment is to become a more effective, sane voice with regard to race relations and moral clarity in our nation. You may call it “one man’s war to bring healing to a philosophically divided nation.” I am motivated by two things: the needs of black America and a personal passion to make a lasting impact on my world.
Black America needs the continued renewal of striving for exceptional personal achievement, strengthening its families, and leaving a legacy of education and training for future generations. It is clear to me that we are about to become the second most prominent racial group. In the next five years the Hispanic community will emerge as the most sought after voting block. Because this community is not as monolithic in its make up or voting patterns, Democrats and Republicans will invest in a highly expensive tug of war for the swing vote of this community.
In the mean time blacks will have to make major strides for themselves. The Katrina tragedy should stand as a warning to blacks that many communities, which have allowed themselves to languish in poverty for years, can be destroyed through national tragedy or a sudden economic crisis. We cannot labor under the assumption that all we have to do is cry out “Racist!” and the cavalry will ride to our rescue. The cavalry of governmental help and special programs will not take us to the next plateau. We are going to have to be our own cavalry!
Let’s make a resolution that we will not fall into the emotional trap of blaming “the man.” Both personal and institutional racism will ultimately have to be overcome by black achievement. We have got to personally pay the price to be in positions of authority that set the direction of the nation. We will have to save ourselves by fighting for personal success that affects our community. In other words, if I am a businessman, I must understand that I have both an economic mission and a cultural assignment to create good jobs, wealth, and influence.
When I was 12 years old, my father sat me down and proclaimed, “Son, I am going to send you to a private school from grades 7 to 12. As a result I will not have enough money to give you an inheritance. I am giving your inheritance to you now by way of your schooling.”
These were heavy words to a young black kid raised exclusively in ghetto schools. All my father wanted in return was that I would become the best I could be at whatever profession I chose. I specifically remember him saying that I could be a janitor, a construction worker, a doctor, or a lawyer but he wanted me to promise to be the best that I could be.
I hate to admit that I have let my father down on quite a few occasions. On the other hand, his visionary investment during a time of racial unrest due to riots, the Vietnam War, and other socially traumatic upheavals helped guide me to attend the finest schools and pursue a standard of excellence to which many of my peers never aspired.
When I was growing up, my mother and father often said that a black person had to be twice as good to go half as far in their professional life. This mindset was not depressing to them. In a strange way it was a motivator. They said, “I am going to be the best I can be!” They worked with the confidence that their kids would live in a better America --- an America that would be enriched by their contribution. They intuitively knew that government answers hardly ever trickle down to the personal level quickly enough to change a person’s life.
It’s time for the black community to raise the bar on personal achievement and investment in the next generation. Today’s black community is just comfortable enough that it has lost the cutting edge of drive and determination to change America’s cultural and racial landscape. James Brown’s death this week reminded me of a statement he popularized, “I am black and I am proud.” This statement begs the question, “What action is this generation of blacks taking to say --- I am black and I am proud?” Let’s make this our New Year’s resolution.