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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The First 100 Years of "Freedom"

During the first 10 years or so of my life I do not recall knowing that some 100 years before my birth black people were legally enslaved in these United States of America.  I do not recall when I first heard or read that in the "land of the free" for hundreds of years black families were destroyed by the American system of slavery and people treated as property based on the dark color of their skin.  As a young boy I was unaware that my true origin was the continent of Africa. The notion that the United States government once considered people like me three fifths of a person was unknown to me.  If slavery was mentioned during my early years in elementary school, apparently it did not register with me what that meant.

I now am able to pause and look back at the history of my family. It brings about time for thoughtful reflection.  I ignore the current news stories designed to distract me into another lane of thought.  I now pause to understand how I got to this point of my life.  Sometimes you can not move forward unless you understand how you got to the place you are at now.  Some 150 years ago my great-great grandparents and their children were slaves.  They were then legally given their "freedom" by  the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

My paternal grandparents lived in Tennessee during the last years of slavery.  After a lifetime of slavery I wonder what my great-great grandparents felt when they were told they were now free? I realize that it wasn't as simple as one day they were enslaved and controlled by others and the next day slavery just ended and they were economically and socially able to do everything that a white person could.  There had to be a transition period from being enslaved to being free.  How did they support themselves economically after being enslaved for years?  Did they have land to farm?  Did they have a home?  I suspect that somehow they were still endeared to the previous slaveowner for food and housing.  Answers to those questions will take more research.

The 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, and the 1865 passage of  the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution were the governmental instruments that ended slavery.  It is difficult to believe that upon passage of these documents that white people's attitudes toward black people would suddenly turn positive.  Along with financial and educational challenges, black people who were formerly enslaved faced negative attitudes of  white people who were not putting out "welcome to freedom" signs.

My descendants likely faced discrimination in all areas of their lives.  History documents that some black people flourished in those first 60 plus years after slavery was outlawed.  That prosperity was sometimes ruined by violent actions of white people.  Read about the story of the Rosewood, Florida and the Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots in the early 1920s.  Personally I've heard stories of how Hill family descendants who had migrated to Arkansas were killed for their land.

The first 100 years of freedom was a time to develop normal free lives.  Sending children to school to gain an education and develop their God given skills.  Finding a job or developing our own businesses.  Then using the money gained from jobs or businesses to purchase a home.  Those were some of the first freedom actions taken.

By the time I was born, it was 92 years from passage of the 13th Amendment.  The year I was born black people still faced discrimination in many areas of life to include housing, education, and hiring for jobs. We could not eat in some restaurants, or sleep in some hotels.  The only reason for not being treated as equals to whites was the color of our skin.  This was the America I grew up under and in some places continues to be what is America still.

In 1965, 100 years since passage of the 13th Amendment, as an 8 year old I had no notion that I wasn't being treated equal to other people of lighter skin complexion.  It was something I simply did not think about.  My daily life did not involve interaction with white people.  We lived amongst other black families.  As an 8 year old I don't recall any national celebration of the 100th anniversary of freedom for those who had been enslaved in the United States of America.  It was just another year.

Now as I reflect upon the first 100 years of freedom for the Hill family, I've begun the initial steps of discovering who were these freedom pioneers in our family.  Where did they live, and what jobs did they have are just the initial questions.  From Robert and Sarah Hill and their children in the 1860s documenting the first 100 years of freedom in the United States has begun.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mentoring

I wasn't aware that January is "National Mentoring Month" until a friend brought that fact to my attention.  Over the past month I've attempted to mentor several young men in my global family.  I don't have to, but it's something I feel I should do.  I did not have the benefit of someone mentoring me as a teenager or when I was entering my early 20's.  During those days I never heard of the concept of a mentor.  For me it was trial by error.  I also learned much by reading and asking questions.  After graduating from college I entered a new middle class lifestyle unequipped with the lessons and knowledge others around me had gained.

Now I have the opportunity to help people in my global family who want advice and want to gain knowledge that will help them reach their full potential.  That is what I offer.  Experience and knowledge on what to do and what to avoid.  Some within the family have accepted my advice. Others have not.  My message is basically it's all about choices, gaining knowledge, and taking advantage of opportunities.  To succeed you must prepare yourself for success. At the end of each day you have to look yourself in the mirror and asked yourself, "Today what have I done to improve my life?"

In my adult life I discovered that sometimes just knowing about opportunities is a challenge.  From my career in human resources, I discovered that some information is kept from people on purpose. If you only want certain people to apply for jobs, you make that information available only to those people.  It's a legal but unethical method of information sharing.  There are legal discrimination techniques and illegal discrimination techniques.

A mentor exists to distribute knowledge to those who need and want knowledge.  That knowledge can cover a variety of topics;  financial advice, relationship advice, advice on pursuing a career, etc.  Most of us do not realize it, but our parents are our first mentors.  Our parents teach us a variety of skills designed to help us achieve and be productive in this world.  But what does someone do if they do not have a mother or father active in their lives as a positive influence?  It is at that point that a mentor becomes very important.

To those I encountered who taught me lessons in life, I say thank you.  They were mostly teachers and a few co workers who cared about my development.  For me it's now about trying to further distribute what I was taught.  To mentor others onto the road to success.  I can only try.  Some will not get it.  They have been captured by the world and their minds transformed into only seeing one part of life.  Others will understand what they must do and begin their personal path to achievement.  That is one value to mentoring.  It helps those who otherwise would be lost, find their way in life.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Don't Tell Me What's Important!

I stopped watching television news weeks ago. If I want to hear the daily propaganda on what I am supposed to care about as news, I may turn in for a good 30 seconds. But, if it was up to me 99.9% of the stories the news put forth would not be the lead story. The lead story is nearly always something negative. In the case of weather warnings I'll give the propaganda machine called the news a pass. We do need to know if violent weather is approaching so we can take cover. But I've also seen news reports make an approaching storm seem like the coming of the 40 day 40 night flood in Noah's Ark. So I just check the weather radar app on my phone to see for myself. As a matter of fact with all the news apps etc who really needs the televised news?  Maybe the networks can run old cartoon episodes in place of the news? Note to self, forward that suggestion to Heads of television networks!
What I would like to see is some stories about things I care about. Such as seeing positive news stories about the actions and lives of African Americans. Yeah I'm still upset about sitting in history class in elementary school and being told that lie that Columbus discovered America. I should have been smart enough to raise my hand in class and ask the teacher "what about those Indians that were already there?  Did they take a cab into the country just before Columbus arrived?
If there is a positive African American television network, Internet company, live production, etc. tell me what and where it is and I'll tune in to it. It would have to be an inspiring show with positive stories. No use of "n" word past or the current ridiculous derivative. N word is "n"  word no matter how you spell it or want to use it in a comical fashion. Yeah when I hear the youthful version I want to tell the user, "you need to go back to the slavery days right now. Enjoy picking the cotton and having fewer rights than you have now!"
So I search for positive stories about African Americans rather than listen to the negative hype, true or not, put forth by a media that could care less about me. I know there are other things besides shootings and murders to hear about. My choice is to seek the positive stories. You have your choice I have mine.
I wonder if I watch 30 days of positive stories and you continue with your 30 days of negative stories, who would have the better outlook about the future, you or me?

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Education - A Path Out

While conducting research on the family genealogy, I came across census records on family members from 1870 to 1940.  The highest level of education a person achieved was one item shown in the census records. Historically, in these United States of America, black people were prevented by social, economic, and racist conditions from pursuing an education for hundreds of years.  We originally were brought here to be slaves, not to go to school and become successful and prosperous.

Once slavery ended and blacks allowed to pursue and education, racism typically prevented blacks and whites from attending school together.  The educational resources and facilities for blacks were often inferior to those of Caucasians. Money wasn't invested in bringing "black" public schools up to the same level as those of whites. Due to persistent racism blacks were prohibited from attending many colleges for years.

Under those conditions, I was not surprised from my family tree  research to see that many Hill family members from the 1870s to the 1940s did not go beyond the 7th grade in terms of formal education.  A 7th grade education and racism that kept blacks from pursuing many occupations converted to blacks only being able to get jobs as laborers, service jobs and generally what were called "unskilled jobs".  These jobs were often low paying and did not support a prosperous lifestyle.

There may have been some family members who were able to overcome the odds and attend and graduate from a college.  But when I was growing up I don't recall meeting one person in the Hill family who shared with me the fact that they attended and graduated from college. On the Alexander side of the family I do recall hearing that an uncle had attended Grambling University, a historically black college.

My dad only had a 7th grade education, while my mom graduated from high school.  That converted to their not having jobs that paid well.  Avenues open to white Americans to get good paying unskilled jobs were not available to black people.  My dad worked in a variety of "unskilled jobs" from working on cars at a car dealership, being a janitor, and working part time as a security guard (among the jobs I knew of).

My parents seemed to understand the importance of an education in the future of their children and enrolled my two brothers, sister, and me in the Catholic School system in Saint Louis, Missouri. Attending those schools required that my parents pay tuition for all of us.  They sacrificed financially to pay to send us to Catholic schools to get a good education.

In the early 1960s becoming an entertainer was touted as being one way a black person could become "successful" in life.  Motown featured a number of singing groups who became role models for many black youth.  I recall my brothers putting together a singing group in the mid 1960s and with friends practicing singing songs and performing at talent shows.  So that was the basic image of how to be successful. Become an entertainer.  Going to college and getting a degree was rarely mentioned as the first option to success.

Somehow as an 11 year old, I understood that education would be my only path to obtaining a well paying job.  I knew I had no future career as a singer or entertainer, and my athletic skills were good but not worthy of becoming a well paid professional athlete.  In a life changing event, in the late 1960s we moved from Saint Louis, Missouri to Compton, California.  Due to a lack of money my parents originally enrolled all of us in public schools in Compton.  I could tell from my first day, the public school system in Compton was inferior to what I had experienced in the Catholic school system in Saint Louis and that my future would not be helped attending a public school.  I faced a decision point.   How was I going to avoid a future of unskilled jobs as my legacy?  Did I want to follow the same path as my parents?   Education and getting a college degree was my only option. Well, turning to a criminal life was an option but I chose not to go in that direction. I took matters into my own hands and just stopped going to the public school.  I told my parents that I wanted the same chance as my brothers and sisters had, that being able to attend a Catholic school up to grade 8. Luckily my parents gave me that chance.  I attended Catholic school in Compton and prospered academically in grades 6 through 8.  I know now, that was a turning point in my life.

In the meantime the educational path of my brothers and sister was disrupted.  They dropped out of school in the first year or so in the Compton public school system. With that disruption came them being sentenced to a lifetime of only qualifying for unskilled labor or service jobs, or worse.  Moving to California did not enhance their chances to continue forward with their education.  They had been enrolled in Catholic schools in Saint Louis.  But the hope that provided ended when we moved to California and they were put into the public school system.  I've often told people that I felt my siblings had the intelligence to excel in schools and pursue careers, if they had been pushed into staying in school and/or remained in the Catholic school system.

Our family's Compton experiment didn't last very long.  After three years, I had begun attending a Catholic high school in Los Angeles, but events already were in place to move us back to the midwest.  We moved to Gary, Indiana and I attended a public school there.  There was no money to pay tuition for my attending a Catholic high school.  Luckily, the academic discipline I was taught in eight years in Catholic schools carried me through my high school years and I excelled academically in high school.   I started applying for admission to various colleges during my senior year in high school.

I was accepted into the University of Evansville.  It was an environment foreign to any I had ever been around.  The school of 3,000 some students had less than 100 black students.  I purposely attended the school to learn how to deal with a culture that I knew I would encounter and work around the remainder of my life.  Prior to then my only interaction with white people was in stores.

I graduated from college in five years.  The extra year was due to my accepting an internship with a Federal employer in Indianapolis as a Human Resources intern.  That two year internship provided me with a guaranteed well paying job when I graduated from college.  My choice to use education as my means of getting a good job had worked out.

I worked in Human Resources for the Federal government for 35 years.  I worked extra hours to learn my trade and to become better than my co workers.  I gained a Masters degree that was paid for by my employer.  My work assignments allowed me to travel around the country.  My job financed my being able to provide a comfortable lifestyle to raise my two sons under.  It provided income to enjoy life and do things I had never been able to experience as a youth.

At work I was often the only black male in the organization, in meetings, and in training sessions.  So I made sure to always carry myself in a professional manner.  Wearing a shirt and tie was a minimum.  Wearing a suit to work was often something I normally did. Those around me would only get positive images of a black man.

I became a supervisor, managed major human resources projects to include being one of the few African Americans who had developed a job classification standard covering government employees. Along the way I mentored others and assisted others in developing their careers.  I was employee of the month and employee of the year.  I managed HR programs for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and closed out my career as the Director of Human Resources for the National Archives and Records Administration in Saint Louis, Missouri my home town.  It was ironic that I ended my working career where it had all started.  I ended my career in Saint Louis with a six figure salary, managed a diverse staff of 21 people, worked in a brand new building, had my own brand new large office, and lived in an apartment paid for by my employer.  It was only through the blessings of God, and using the educational system that I was able to prosper and enjoy the retirement lifestyle that I now enjoy.

When I speak to nephews and nieces or students I mentor, I stress that I achieved success by using education as my pathway.  If I had not focused on getting an education, my lifestyle would likely be much different and less enjoyable than it is today.  I try to stress to others that in this country education is the key to success.  Without it the odds of your having a lifestyle allowing you to really enjoy life are slim. So the options are school, education and improved odds of financial success.  Or no education, and hustling in a variety of legal or non legal ventures to stay afloat.  Which do you choose?