Although the month has passed, black history should be celebrated every day through the way in which we live our lives. So many paths have been pioneered for us, from athletics to medicine to the U.S. presidency. So many people whose history we share have marched us forward. They have sacrificed much and worked diligently to create a kind of change that we, our generation and yours, could inherit.
That change, I believe, is best described in one word -- opportunity. We inherited opportunity. Today, we can walk through doors that once denied us access, both figuratively and literally.
I was watching a world famous athlete in Bill Russell, who recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom award, talk about how Jackie Robinson had paved the way for his generation. One of the things that struck me about what Mr. Russell said during an interview was when he said something to the effect of "what I inherited from Jackie Robinson was the opportunity to do things and it is not enough to say 'thank you for the opportunity.' It is about seizing the opportunity."
Young people, are we honoring our inheritance? Are we seizing opportunity? Or, are we simply saying "thank you" once a year during Black History Month?
When we do not go to school and work hard, we are not honoring our inheritance. We can now attend school and learn to read and to write because of our inheritance. So, you say, "It's too hard." But what if those who fought for our civil rights thought it was too hard and simply gave up? Where might we be today? How might your present life be different? Sure, it will be difficult sometimes, but remember the saying that "most things that are worth having don't usually come easy." That includes your education. Some things will come easier to you than others; the key is to stick with those things that challenge you a bit. Don't be passive, if you need help, be proactive and arrange to see a teacher or tutor for additional explanation. That's doing something.
When we do not exercise our right to vote, we are not honoring our inheritance. We can now cast a ballot and give voice to elections all across this country because of our inheritance. So, you say, "My vote won't matter," it's raining, too hot, or cold, the lines are too long or you don't have a ride to the polls. Think of the marches on foot for miles -- the sweat, blood and tears shed. Think of the voices silenced by death because of protesting for us to have the right to have our voices heard. Sure, it may take up some of your time, and irritate you a little to have to wait your turn, but remember those before you who fought so that you could have a turn. A little time spent and having to figure out how to get to the polls are very small prices to pay for the incredible privilege to cast your vote. Don't stand idly by, get out and vote. That's doing something.
When we do not carry ourselves in respectable ways, we are not honoring our inheritance. Let's us be sure that we are now not denying ourselves access to the very doors that were unlocked for us. Let's pull up our pants and be attentive to our language. Let's be thoughtful about the ways in which we express ourselves and reflexive about how we can do better to serve ourselves and our communities.
Young people, you are heirs to opportunities for greatness.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.