I recently visited Virginia Union University Chapel to speak to the students, faculty, staff, and community members. I spoke about leadership experiences and shared some key moments that helped grow my approach to pushing boundaries to achieve the impossible.
I credit my mother with inspiring me to accomplish my life’s ambitions. She told me my journey would be difficult, but that I could be anything I wanted to be. That’s going to be the hardest journey you ever take in life — that’s the journey to self. You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know who they are and never find self.
A native of Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood, I earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Virginia University Union. Due to segregation, that was the only school in the city accepting Black students. After completing my degree, I was conscripted into military service in Korea. I recall departing on a bus to go to war as I left campus watching other students go about their studies. It was a juxtaposition that caused me to reflect on the emptiness I felt, though I was now a college graduate.
I described my service in the Army and the challenges my fellow Black soldiers and I faced in advancing rank. We were sent on the most dangerous patrols and watched less experienced white servicemen receive promotions. However, there was a commanding officer who promised to enforce President Truman’s Desegregation Order when we first came to the front lines. Upon learning of the unfair practices, I led a group that we assembled and complained about discriminatory practices. Within a month, after the proven allegations, the situation was remarkably improved through proper remedy.
This was a real beginning point for me believing that the “system” could work.
I also discussed the challenges facing Historically Black Colleges and Universities relative to equity in funding. I referenced a recent legal opinion by Attorney General Jason Miyares that pointed out the falsehood of the position that “HBCUs” in Virginia can not receive state funding. Unfortunately, this has been the parroted excuse given by the legislature in the past and continues to be.
Reform is essential to elevate the education system in Richmond at large and which holds some of the lowest K-12 rankings. Where is the money? Where are our leaders? Where are the persons we’ve looked to provide the opportunities to move ahead? Where are they today?
We challenge ourselves to demand what is right and criticize what is wrong. And you don’t have to be in public office to be a leader.