DR. CHARLES A. HARPER, III
Editor’s note: On May 17, Dr. Harper delivered this keynote address during a ‘Vision of the Future’ ceremony, formerly known as a Baccalaureate service, for senior students graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta.
A journey through Booker T. Washington High School, graduating seniors, should begin and end at the statue located in front of the school. That magnificent sculpture sums up the legacy, the life and the love of Dr. Booker T. Washington.
Erected at the entrance of the school in 1927, the statue is an exact replica of the statue created in bronze at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1922. Look closely at the statue. Dr. Washington lifts the veil from a person, a man that obviously is in an inferior condition.
What significance, then, does this have for you as a millennial in the 21st Century? What are the veils that need to be lifted?
First – ‘Veil of Ignorance’
Sculptor Charles Keck portrays Dr. Booker T. Washington with his goal of bringing his people a better life through a better education. He is depicted lifting the veil of ignorance from his people, symbolized by a terrified slave.
The slave holds a book representing education and crouches on a plow and anvil, representing tools of agriculture and industry. The inscription reads, “He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry” – education and industry that now includes the field of technology.
I believe that Dr. Washington was allowed to stand on his prophetic tip-toes, look over into the annals of time to see YOU, the keepers of his legacy, engaged in technology-based education and industry that would shape and mold future generations!
I believe that Dr. Washington realized that creative, inquisitive and innovative minds would challenge the status quo as you became logical and critical thinkers!
I believe that Dr. Washington saw you as producers, not just as end users!
He might caution you, however – Be careful; do not develop an entitlement mentality; there is no substitute for a great work ethic, for no one owes you anything. Read his words on the statue!
Second – ‘Veil of Poverty’
Some statistics indicate that younger generations today will not be as economically successful as preceding generations for whatever reason. The recent downturn in the economy disproportionately affected minorities.
But read the statue. Dr. Washington said, “We shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify Labor, and, put Brains and skills into the common occupations of life.” Not only is there a premium in obtaining a college education, there is a great intrinsic value in the “common occupations” of life! Electricians, plumbers, technologists, etc.
Less than one mile from here, a $1.5 billion building (the New Atlanta Stadium) is under construction by people with common occupations. Dr. Washington knew that college is not for everyone. However, technical education is vital in mastering many skillsets.
I received three bills this week for services rendered: one from a medical doctor; one from a plumber; the other from a heating – ventilating – air conditioning (HVAC) contractor. For one hour’s service, their rates were about the same!
Whatever your passion is – through desire, dedication and discipline – if you believe it, you can achieve it!
Third – ‘Veil of Doubt’
Graduation is a glorious time, yet for some, it may be a time for apprehension and doubt. What’s next?
Where do I go? What do I do?
Between the ages of 18 and 21, many life-altering decisions are made.
I know that you are used to hearing, “You can be anything you want to be.” I have a confession to make. Up until a few years ago, I (along with others) didn’t really believe that.
But on Jan. 20, 2009, when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as president of the United States of America, tears of joy flowed and we really believe it now! If you are willing to set goals and plan – to work hard, be persistent, and be patient – you can make it!
BTW will live on
It is not a secret. I have heard some express doubt as to whether or not there will be a Booker T. Washington High School in years to come!
It will be! Class of 2015 and alumni, this school needs your time, your talent and your treasure. My sisters and my wife and I would like to establish and fund the Charles A. Harper, Jr. Class of 1934 Memorial Scholarship to be awarded annually. Dr. Wilson, please accept this check for $1,000. If at all possible, one of you will receive this scholarship.
It’s good to celebrate the legacy at class reunions. It’s great to celebrate the legacy while tailgating in the back. It’s wonderful to celebrate the legacy at Homecoming games. But it’s better to celebrate the legacy with your time, talent, and treasure! We challenge all alumni to contribute in like manner!
In closing, allow me to leave you with this thought, Class of 2015. You are part of the fellowship of the unashamed. You have “Bulldog power.”
The die has been cast. You are about to step over the line. The decision has been made – you are determined to succeed. Don’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. Your past is redeemed; your present makes sense; your future is secure.
Be finished and done with low living, sight-walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, and cheap living. Do not concentrate on preeminence, positions, promotions, or popularity. Remain humble! You don’t have to be recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.
Live by faith, honor your family, walk by patience, be lifted by prayer, and labor by power. Be determined; your face is set, your step is fast, your goal is success, your road is narrow, your way is rough, your companions may be few. You cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed.
Don’t give up
Do not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the feet of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. Don’t give up, shut up, let up, until you’ve have stayed up, stored up, saved up, paid up, stood up for the cause of what is right.
You are headed toward success! You must go till it comes; you must give till you drop; you must witness till all know; and work tirelessly. And when you come back in 2065 (after 50 years), they will have no problem recognizing you.
Your message to future generations will be clear. In the words of the great, powerful, and prophetic principal Dr. J. Y. Moreland, your banner will be clear, it will read: ROLL ON BULLDOGS, ROLL ON!
Dr. Charles A. Harper, III is senior pastor of Paradise Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.