Measure of a Man

Quest for Equity

Photo by Vicky Sim on Unsplash

Booker T. Washington once said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome” (BrainyQuote” 2021). This simple statement reflects the experiences of an individual and it can also speak metaphorically to the challenges faced by a group of people.

I attended a public high school in a large city in the early 1960s. It was a typical urban school with low expectations for students of color and less rigorous academic content. I vividly recall several incidents which have left indelible impressions on my life. After our teacher had returned a History test, I noticed that a White friend and I had received different grades for the exact same one-word answers. I asked our White teacher why he had received an “A” and I had received an “A minus“ ? What mistakes had I made? She immediately informed me, “Your first mistake was being born!”

On another occasions, after completing a career aptitude assessment, I was told, “Tell your mother not to waste any money sending you to college.” Not-with-standing I started college. Because of my poor college preparation I was required to take all of the remedial classes offered incoming Freshmen.

I recall once spending all night writing and rewriting a paper. I submitted it and when it was returned to me the enormity of errors ( identified in red ink) resembled blood from an open wound all over the sheets of onion skin paper. Predictably I did poorly. I was totally unprepared for the level of academic rigor necessary for university success. After a year I was dismissed and joined the U. S. Marine Corps.

One night, we were under enemy attack. Incoming rockets exploded all around us but none hit the bunker that I was in. That night I realized that The Almighty alone was my only Protector. He alone decided the success or failure of all human efforts.

After my earlier discriminatory experiences in public school, I wanted to return to college. The Marine Corps had taught me never to give up and I was determined to defeat the discriminatory underpinning of American society that I had experienced. I wrote to the Dean of my former university explaining that I was now a mature non-commissioned officer serving our country in Vietnam and that I wanted to pursue my education seriously.

I received his reply while I was still in that war-torn country dodging incoming rocket attacks. I sat on a bunker and read his reply. He said that he had reviewed my previous academic records and saw no indication that I would do any better if given another opportunity. So he denied me re-admission.

After I was discharged, I was finally admitted to a local two-year technical school and with the support of my wife, my VA Education benefits and a part-time job began climbing toward social equity. With the normal task of earning a living and raising a family, it took me fifteen years to earn a Bachelor’s Degree and another thirty-four to achieve the status of Doctor of Philosophy in Social Foundations of Education.

Although the names, locations and particulars may differ, many Americans faced with systemic discrimination have overcome a myriad of challenges in their lives, too. And if one considers the challenges faced by racial and ethnic minorities in this country, the metaphor also rings true.

But today’s America is beginning to ascend the hill of social justice. Our recently elected President and VIce-President are leading our nation in its efforts to face old discriminatory practices that have led to difficulties in the lives of individuals as well as racial and ethnic communities. The new America will be measured by the depths of racism and discrimination from which it was able to climb.

Work Cited

“BrainyQuote.” 2021. BrainyQuote. BrainyQuote. 2021.

Measure of a Man was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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