Thursday, February 18, 2016

DREAM BIG! A Lesson In Black History from a Piece of American History

Yesterday, I was blessed to be among several other employees that gathered in a reserved meeting space within the Fortune 100 company for which I work to see, hear, and experience a piece of Black History. And not just Black History . . . but American History. The guest of honor was Dr. Robert L. Wright, who not only served as keynote speaker, but as an incredible tool of motivation to all who would listen to his words and grasp the powerful messages behind them.

Dr. Wright is a native of Columbus, GA and serves as Director Emeritus of Aflac. He had only great things to say about our company and the many ways it continuously sows into the up-building of the African American community. A few weeks ago, when I met with a company executive and was asked to write an article on Dr. Wright regarding his pending appearance, I had never before heard of him. As I embarked upon the necessary research to put together the feature, my ignorance of this man became a point of embarrassment. Delving deeper into my online exploration, I discovered the life of a man of great wealth; perhaps not financially, but certainly a man rich in determination, wisdom, understanding, experience, and accomplishment. By the time my personal research was complete, I felt I'd been introduced to an unsung hero.

Though yesterday's occasion was one set in place by the company's Diversity Counsel to commemorate Black History Month, Dr. Wright's appearance drew the perfect crowd. Blacks, Whites, Asians, Hispanics . . . the varied culture of the corporation's roster of employees could be seen throughout the room, and from the rousing responses, it was easy to conclude that everyone was educated and empowered by the message presented. During the one hour gathering, our featured guest shared his personal testimony of growing up in the segregated south. By far his wasn't a privileged household. His father was an humble bricklayer and his mother worked as a nurse. Together they did all they could to ensure their children grew up to be more in a world where Blacks were still viewed as less.

After graduating from Spencer High School in Columbus, GA and finding it impossible to gain acceptance into southern colleges due to elevated racial tension, Robert Wright decided upon Ohio State University. There, he pursued a degree from the school’s College of Optometry. Upon obtaining his credentials, he returned home with the earned title of "doctor" and with the intent to begin practicing in his field. But his establishment as an optometrist in the segregated South would not come easy. Because doctor or not . . . he was still black.

Racial intolerance was still prevalent in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and Wright’s first attempts were met with many barricades. One practice went so far as to erase their sign advertising their need to hire a staff Optometrist when he came to apply for the job. Eventually discouragement sent him back to Ohio, but determination wouldn’t allow him to stay. Upon getting word of the goings on in the civil rights movement that had begun brewing in the South, Wright walked away from the independent practice he’d been working with in Ohio and headed back to Columbus, GA where he joined in as an active part of the movement. In 1965, he became a part of the original “Dream Team” when he found himself marching along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery.

Though he was eventually able to begin a successful practice in Columbus, a new purpose had begun taking root in Dr. Wright’s life and his interest shifted from healthcare to politics. The desire to make a positive difference in the lives of those in the world around him had taken a front seat, and he found himself answering the call; selling his practice in the process. In 1970 Wright was elected to the Columbus Georgia City Council where he ultimately served three terms and was responsible for Council District 2 with a population of approximately 50,000 residents. But his proven level of responsibility and accountability was far too great to be confined to the borders of Columbus’s local government. Dr. Wright became a part of the Executive Leadership Cabinet for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation and he served as Chairman of the Presidential Commission for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Most recently, Dr. Robert Wright was presented with the prestigious Congressional Black Caucus Annual Phoenix Award during a ceremony that was attended by President & First Lady Obama, proving once again that he is indeed a man among men. To say that sharing the same room with this nearly 80-year-old icon on yesterday felt like being in the presence of greatness is not an overstatement. When I shook his hand at the close of the event, I felt honored. 

The overall theme of the afternoon was DREAM BIG, and being one who looks for spiritual messages within everyday experiences, I pulled many things from those two words. As Dr. Wright talked about the challenges that he had to overcome to find success; I thought of the many traps set in place by the evil one that we all have to triumph in order to reach our divine potential. I thought of the Almighty God that I serve and how BIG and powerful He is. When man tells us we can't, God assures us that nothing is impossible with Him. When man defines us as less, God says that through Him, we are more than conquerors.

So yes . . . Dream Big! For there is no dream bigger than the one that shows us our worth and gives us the strength to overcome the odds and strive toward what we know to be our God-ordained purpose.

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