Message from an unoppressed black man to Colin Kaepernick on MLK day

“The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race.” — Booker T. Washington, “Up from Slavery”

Today we recognize and remember a man born and raised in the very same neighborhood in which I grew up, Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I just finished re-reading the autobiography of Booker T. Washington, “Up from Slavery,” a book we all should take the time to read…especially folks like Colin Kaepernick. The book contains the full speech Washington gave on September 18, 1895 in Atlanta at the Exposition, also called the Cotton States Exposition. It was there that the founder of what is now known as Tuskegee University delivered a remarkable speech that established Washington as one of the great orators and educators in America.

In his speech, Washington developed a theme of “cast down your bucket where you are.” It is a profound statement and theme, and to understand the context, you should read Washington’s complete speech. The message he conveyed is that you should seek out success where you are.

And Dr. King’s message was about the promise of America by way of equality of opportunity, enabling all to pursue their happiness. What Booker T. Washington and Dr. King never sought was and equality of outcomes, that would be racist. We also refer to that as the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

If Booker T. Washington and Dr. King were to come back for the day and walk the streets of the inner city black neighborhoods of America, neither would be pleased. They’d see the decimation of the black family. They’d see clinics of Planned Parenthood, founded by a white supremacist and racist, Margaret Sanger, that fulfills her dreams of murdering unborn black babies…”weeds” and “undesirables.” Dr. King would shed tears knowing that over 13 million little black baby “dreamers” would never know of his dream.

Booker T. Washington would be appalled to see the deplorable state of education in the urban black community, and the lack of what he termed industrial education. He’d shed a tear to see the lack of one of his pillars, entrepreneurship, which leads to self-reliance. The beauty of Tuskegee Institute was that it was built by the students, as they attained their formal education.

The story behind casting down your bucket where you are centers around a ship that was in distress, lost at sea. It had located a friendly vessel and sent a message that they were dying of thirst, send water. The friendly vessel sent a signal back to “cast your bucket where you are” — this exchange happened several times until the lost ship did as was directed. They came to find out that they were in fresh water, and satisfied their thirst themselves.

The black community today is a ship in distress, lost. They keep sending out messages for others to give them water to drink…not realizing that there’s fresh water right where they are to satisfy their thirst. All they need do is “cast down your bucket where you are.” The lesson learned is one of self-reliance and not dependency.

Just imagine, somehow, black unemployment is at an all-time recorded low, and it didn’t come during the administration of Barack Obama who was more focused on “social justice” by way of political agitation. He should have been focused on the policies enabling economic empowerment; instead he sent a message to the black community to wait on him to give them something to drink…when fresh water was right where they are.

As a kid growing up in Atlanta, attending elementary school across from Dr. King’s final resting place, the impact was incredible. Angela and I are living Dr. King’s dream as our parents set the conditions for our success by challenging us, and ensuring we had a solid foundation of a quality education. My cousin attended Tuskegee, and my godfather was a Tuskegee Airman, William “Stickey” Jackson.

So, on this day, I remember the “father of black conservatism”, Booker T. Washington, and the leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I will always cast my bucket where I am, and live the promise of Dr. King’s dream: excellence due to the content of my character, not outcomes based on the color of my skin.

Thanks to you both for making my success possible.

[Learn more about Allen West’s vision for this nation in his book Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom]

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