This I Believe

Wilbur - Fayetteville, North Carolina
Entered on May 16, 2007

THIS I BELIEVE

I believe that every child, regardless of the accident of birth, is owed the right to develop his or her mind to the greatest extent possible and to live to realize his or her fullest potential. There are few physical barriers that prevent this from being a reality, but many cultural, economic, environmental and ideological ones.

It is estimated that several million children die every year from curable diseases, famine and starvation, and war and violence. I believe that somewhere within that mass of humanity, extinguished by an array of horrific forces, is the genius to cure many of the world’s problems and the intellectual and leadership capacity to unlock the genius in others.

As a young boy growing up in the rural South during the 50s and 60s, I learned the importance of an education from the intense efforts to ensure that I did not receive one. I learned early that I was poor and Black; but, I also learned that I did not have to be uneducated.

It is ironic that we often think of education as a universal birthright in this country and, therefore, take for granted the opportunity to acquire an education and to develop our minds. We also take for granted the sacrifices many people made to ensure that universal educational opportunities were generally accepted. However, one of the hallmarks of human history has been the restriction or outright denial of academic and intellectual development because of various reasons.

During my many years of working with young adults, I am often saddened that too many of them are completely oblivious to the plight of children and young adults around the world. I am also saddened that many of them find others’ misery humorous. They fail to realize that many of the things they think are insignificant could completely change the lives and circumstances of others less fortunate than they. For instance, many of them will throw away food because it doesn’t look appetizing. Others have come to believe that they have no personal worth or true value unless they are wearing the latest fads and fashions or speaking the “language” of the day. Additionally, others have acquired no value for education and suffer from the delusion that the development of one’s mind is not a universal right, and that it is restricted to only a select few within any given society.

I believe that many young people in this country, unfortunately, will never reach their full potential, not because they have so little, but because they have too much. I also believe that all adults have a responsibility to engage young adults in honest dialog to broaden their worldview, to inform their thinking and to engage them in constructive efforts to develop within them a sense of compassion, empathy and service. When we do, I believe we can make significant progress toward helping all children achieve their full potential.