Good afternoon from Jackson, Mississippi. I know that’s a foreign country to many of you. But I couldn’t be there with you, and I just thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of this historic and special event. Certainly, this is a great sign of progress for UL.
I was asked to attend and share my experiences from my life and my 35-year UL journey. Well, my story and my journey is something that I’m sure many of you can relate to. I have two people in my life who really inspired me and who were instrumental in my success. One was my grandfather who was a Korean War veteran. Very little education but was very successful in life. He had his own business and gave me my first job. Now mind you, I didn’t say it was my first paying job, it was just a job. It was a job, and it taught me the value of hard work. He lived a very long life and passed away in his late 90s.
The other person who greatly influenced me was a strong Black woman. And her name was Mary, and she just happened to be my mother. Why, you ask, these two people? Well, you see I grew up most of my years in a single parent household. My mom and dad divorced when I was very young. A product of the projects and the so-called ‘hood, my mom worked two jobs just to provide for my siblings and me, but she gave each of us an opportunity to succeed in life. But even with those hardships growing up, I did not let my past dictate what my future would be.
My mom and grandfather were living examples of courage, strength and perseverance that was built upon a spiritual foundation that gave me a straightforward instruction to live by. It’s called the Golden Rule, and it says always treat people the way you want to be treated. Although this is a simple instruction, those words are relevant even today as it relates to diversity and inclusion.
During my UL career, I faced many challenges internally and externally. One incident that I would like to share has remained with me over the years. When I came to UL in 1982, there weren’t many people in decision-making positions that looked like me. My first lead field supervisor made it his mission to just get me fired. I’m sure some of you probably have been there. Why? Because he felt threatened by my performance and my potential. Well, you know what that was about. You have a brother born in the segregated Jim Crow South, and I can smell racism and prejudice a mile away. I know it when I see it.
What a dangerous and divisive mindset for a person to have. It was a difficult time for me in my career, however, long-story-short, that supervisor was eventually fired for unrelated reasons, and I’m still here after 35 years.
I also experienced external challenges during the performance of my job. But those are just too numerous to mention in this short timeframe. But the key takeaway is how did I overcome the obstacles and challenges that were placed before me? Nelson Mandela, one of my heroes, said, “Challenges and obstacles either make a man or break a man. And do not be overcome by evil and evildoers, but overcome evil with good.” He also went on to say that your faith must be stronger than your fears. How did I overcome? I overcame because my faith was stronger than my fears.
I would say whatever your life’s work is, do it well, even amid trials and tribulations. Continue to be the best you can be, and I guarantee you someone will recognize it and notice it and you will become a victor rather than a victim. I’m going take a moment and call out some names of some people you may or may not recognize.
Benjamin Banneker. Thurgood Marshall. Langston Hughes. Sidney Poitier. Alice Walker. Muhammad Ali. Oprah Winfrey. Colin Powell. Michelle and Barrack Hussein Obama and I can go on and on and on. Those are just a few of the names of people of color, past and present, who made contributions to every facet of our world and our society.
What if, just what if all those whom I mentioned were not given opportunities to share their gifts, their talents, and were judged by the color of their skin or gender and not by the content of their characters. What accomplishments, achievements, that would have been missed that changed our society and our world?
A couple more names that you might recognize. Katrina Jackson. Kareem Shakur. Chantel Carson. Now you want to ask yourself would UL be a lesser organization if someone would have stereotyped, judged and not allowed these brilliant people to share his or her gifts and talents with this organization simply because of their race or gender? I say a big yes. We would be a lesser organization.
Finally, it’s imperative that we begin to embrace our differences no matter what they might be and build relationships instead of building walls of division. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Thank you, and God bless.