Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama: A New Kind of Role Model

For the last forty years, since the untimely death of Dr. King, Black America has lacked a true national role model.

Sure, we have shared in the successes of athletes and musicians from Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan to Michael Jackson and Jay-Z, not to mention TV and movie stars like Oprah and Will Smith. But those people, I hate to say, would best be described as celebrity figures then idols then role models.

Not since Dr. King has a Black man been charged with leading all of his kinfolk at once. Young and old, college-educated and non-degree holder, rural and urban, rich and poor. All of these segments of the Black community, and others, were once held within the reach of Dr. King's voice.

On November 4, 2008, a man who has so much (smart, educated) yet so little (politician, half-white) in common with Dr. King made his voice heard. And Black America, albeit a generation removed, stood up and watched Barack Obama pick up the baton that Dr. King had taken from W.E.B. Dubois, his sparring partner Booker T. Washington and their predecessors Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Typically relays are run by four individuals, but - as we have learned for the last few centuries - Black America is often required to do more to achieve the same end.

So, running what amounts to the fifth leg, Chicago's favorite son Barack Obama has taken the baton and carried it further than any person of color ever has in this country.

Whether you agree with his policies or not, we can all agree that this moment will forever be remembered as having substantial significance for all Americans with Black Americans, not just African-Americans, at the fore front of that achievement.

With a Kenyan father, Barack Obama is not the traditional Black man in America. He did not live through the segregation that many of our parents and grandparents lived through for his entire life. He did not rise through the political ranks of Chicago and Illinois by being a loud proponent of affirmative action and a staunch opponent of police brutality.

If anything, Barack Obama represents the future of Black America more than most of us ever will. Namely because he represents all of America, which is exactly what Dr. King and those before him struggled so hard to accomplish.

Black America will always admire its athletes, entertainers and musicians, but we are a people best represented by those who seek to serve the public. The best of us are often those chosen to represent all Americans, not just Black Americans. The names Thurgood Marshall and Colin Powell should come to mind.

Like Marshall, Barack Obama used his knowledge of the law to leverage his way up America's ladder to success. And like Powell, he used his skill in Washington to lobby his way up the hearts and minds of Americans.

Now, a generation and some removed from Dr. King's death, we have a real role model who reminds Black Americans that everything feels so much better with a real role model in our lives. Even before we experience the benefits ourselves.

Because for the next 40 years, much like what we saw with Dr. King's emulators, Black boys and girls will strive to be more like Barack Obama. And we'll all be better off because of it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chicago Tribune: Election sends right message to young athletes

Election sends right message to young athletes
Chicago Tribune
Rick Morrissey

Over the last few days, black athletes and coaches have lined up to say that Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election proves to young African-Americans that anything is possible.

They should have taken it a step further.

What they should have said, in so many words, was:

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"To the kids who are dreaming of fame and fortune in sports: You have almost no chance of making it to the pros, and your odds of getting a college athletic scholarship are incredibly slim. Don't delude yourself. You're not the exception. You're most likely the rule.

"Play sports for the lessons they teach you about teamwork and effort and life. All those things are transferable to the real world. But there's only one LeBron James, and you're not him. Put down the ball once in a while and pick up a book, the way Obama did. You'll go far."

Deflating? Probably. Unfair? Maybe a little.

But absolutely real.

For too long, too many blacks have looked upon sports and entertainment as the only avenues to achieve huge success. Aided and abetted by coaches, parents and other relatives, they cling to the fantasy of impending wealth and stardom.

In a way, it makes sense. What worked for someone who looks like me and comes from a similar background as me will therefore work for me.

But it doesn't make it any less heartbreaking to watch.

What an opportunity there is now, with Obama preparing to move into the White House. Will kids look up from their pickup games long enough to notice? Will they start to reach higher than a basketball rim?

"What I like about Obama is that, even though his situation might be different from theirs, he did come from humble beginnings," said Louis Harrison Jr., a University of Texas professor who does research on race and athletics. "He wasn't born with a silver spoon. Hopefully, kids will connect with that and see that, hey, here's an opportunity to do something really great, and you don't necessarily have to run fast or jump high to do it."

If a kid comes up short of his goal of becoming a college athlete, his choices might be limited, especially if he hasn't paid attention to school.

If he comes up short of his goal of becoming president of the United States, lots of good can come from the pursuit. Maybe he becomes a doctor, lawyer or businessman. Maybe he makes a nice life for himself and his family.

All of this is coming from your resident white guy, and as such should be taken in that context. I can't begin to understand what it's like to grow up poor with the incredibly difficult challenges many blacks face.

But having just been through the college selection business with one of my children, I know that universities desperately want to increase the number of minority students in their institutions. Scholarships and aid abound for African-Americans.

The problem is that, for many of those kids, the only model they have for going to college is the sports-scholarship model.

Now we have a basketball-playing, soon-to-be leader of the free world who is of mixed racial heritage. The fact he's not like most politicians—the fact he can dribble a basketball without tripping over his feet—has led to all sorts of prose about the president-elect's hoops abilities. But if you have seen his jump shot, you know a basketball career was never in the cards for him.

The important thing is that, somewhere along the way, either he recognized his athletic shortcomings or someone convinced him of them. He went on to Columbia University and Harvard Law School, and the rest is world history.

Sports are not a dead end. They offer us an education of their own. One lesson is that you can't always get what you want. What you do with your life once that lesson sinks in is what really matters. The sooner that lesson arrives for most of us, the better.

Sometimes I hear college coaches talk to children about the importance of academics, and it rings hollow. One look at the graduation rates of college basketball and football programs tells you all you need to know. According to one study, 33 schools in last year's NCAA men's basketball tournament graduated at least 70 percent of their white players. Only 19 schools graduated that many black players.

Lots of kids have been too busy dribbling a basketball or running a football to realize that anything in life is possible. They didn't need Obama's election to tell them that. But it helps. Now all they need to do is look up.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Do You Need an Obama to Believe?

Do You Need an Obama to Believe?
Real Clear Politics
By Larry Elder

"Does Obama's victory, as a black man, make you feel that you can do anything?" Someone asked me that on election night.

It is a caricature of America that, pre-Obama, major obstacles blocked achievement. It is equally a caricature that Obama's win suddenly creates opportunity that did not exist before.

Hard work wins, my dad always told me. My Republican father, who disdained Democrats who "give people something for nothing," taught my brothers and me to work hard, stay focused, live within our means, and at all times avoid self-pity. My mom and dad always said, "Ninety percent of the people don't care about your problems. And the 10 percent are glad it's you."

Born in Athens, Ga., and eventually raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., my dad never knew his biological father. The only father figure in his life was harsh, distant and cold. His mother, because he made "too much noise" for her then-boyfriend, threw him out of the house at age 13.

So this penniless boy, living in the Jim Crow South as the Great Depression loomed, started knocking on doors. He finally got a job running errands and tending the yard for a white family. One day, the family's cook failed to show up. But my dad, having watched her in the kitchen, whipped up a passable meal. The family let the other helper go, and a cook was born.

Seeking more money, my dad applied for and got a job on the railroads as a Pullman porter -- then the country's largest private employer of blacks. He traveled all over the country, making a mental note of California because, he says, its beauty and warm weather seemed open and inviting, and the people seemed more fair.

World War II broke out. My dad enlisted as a Marine. He served as a cook and became a sergeant. The military ultimately stationed him on Guam as we prepared to invade the islands of Japan, an invasion that never took place because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

My dad returned to Chattanooga, where he went to an employment office. The lady at the desk told him he walked through the wrong door, directed him back out to the hall, and told him to enter through the "colored only" door.

"That's it," he angrily told my mom, whom he had just married. "I'm going to California, and in a few days, I will send for you."

My father arrived in Los Angeles and went from restaurant to restaurant to find work. "Sorry," he was told, "you have no references." "Sorry, you have no credentials." "Sorry ..." He, of course, knew why.

He went to an employment office. The woman said, "We have no openings." My dad said, "I'll sit until you do." He sat in that office from opening until closing for a day and a half. Finally, the woman called him to the desk and said: "I have a job. It's for a janitor. Do you want it?"

My dad worked at that job for nearly 10 years, while working a second full-time job for nearly as long and cooking for a white family on the weekends. He somehow managed to go to night school to get his GED and save enough money, while in his 40s, to start a small cafe near downtown Los Angeles.

He ran the cafe, which provided my brothers and me weekend and summer jobs, until he was in his 80s. One day, my dad and I decided to clean out the garage. We found a letter he wrote to my older brother, then 2 years old. My dad said he feared that if something happened to him, my brother would need guidance:

May 4, 1951

Kirk, my Son, you are now starting out in life -- a life that Mother and I cannot live for you.

So as you journey through life, remember it's yours, so make it a good one. Always try to cheer up the other fellow.

Learn to think straight, analyze things, be sure you have all the facts before concluding, and always spend less than you earn.

Make friends, work hard, and play hard. Most important of all remember this -- the best of friends wear out if you use them.

This may sound silly, Son, but no matter where you are on the 29th of September (Kirk's birthday), see that Mother gets a little gift, if possible, along with a big kiss and a broad smile.

When you are out on your own, listen and take advice but do your own thinking and concluding, set up a reasonable goal, then be determined to reach it. You can and will, it's up to you, Son.

Your Father,

Randolph Elder

Dad is now 93 and, thankfully, still with us.

So, yes, Obama's historic victory makes a statement about the long, hard, bloody journey. Obama makes people believe. Some of us always did.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Good read in the NYT

Letter to a Rookie
New York Times
Published: September 29, 2008

Will Venable
100 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA. 92101
Skip to next paragraph

The latest installment in an occasional series of guest columns by Doug Glanville, running throughout the 2008 baseball season.

Dear Will,

The other day I received an e-mail from a writer who had interviewed me a couple of years ago for Black History Month. We’d kept in touch, and he was writing to inform me of your promotion to the major leagues.

He also told me that you are the second African-American Ivy Leaguer to make it to that level. And he confirmed something I had suspected but had never fully explored: I was the first.

Putting aside our nasty Penn-Princeton rivalry, I want to congratulate you on your big-league call-up. I remember my first game, in 1996 with the Cubs. It is something you never forget.

I hope you don’t mind me sharing with you a little of what this experience has meant to me.

For the whole of my career, I knew that being an Ivy League graduate in major league baseball made me something of an anomaly. Certainly there have only been a handful of Ivy League baseball players of any culture or race. In the minor leagues, that pedigree wasn’t considered a badge of honor, or even much of an asset. Quite the opposite. The fact that I’d gone to a school like Penn caused question marks to swirl about my “focus” and my “commitment” to the game. After all, I was seen as someone who could walk away at any time (as one of my teammates who’d gone to Stanford did after a demotion).

I had critics say in print that I was “too smart for my own good” or that I “spent more time philosophizing than working.” I recognized that I often asked a lot of questions to get a deeper understanding of some techniques, but I always found it curious that I was accused of thinking I had all the answers and asking too many questions at the same time. I suspect that your path wasn’t a rose-petaled stroll in the park, either. A writer friend of mine, describing how my Ivy league degree was perceived in my minor league experience, referred to my experience coming up in minor league baseball as “Poison Ivy.”

But, unlike the minors, the major leagues can be a great equalizer. Unique backgrounds are seen as points of interest and color that stand out from the usual package. In marketing-friendly America, unique can be a great selling point. I don’t know much about your road to San Diego, but if you carry any resentment at all about being isolated in the minor leagues because of the simple reality of who you are, I hope you can keep that in mind. It got a lot better for me as time went on.

When I was in the thick of feeling alone, I focused on the common path of what we all as players were trying to achieve: loving to play this game and a dream of the major leagues. And despite everything, there was a lot more that brought us together as players than not. I also needed to believe that performing well can trump everything.

Somehow, the bookend of your achievement makes my own experience more tangible. I no longer feel like this phantom of impossibility, as I did from the day I was drafted and signed as a junior in June of 1991. (I did go back to school to get my degree, much to the consternation of some of the powers that be.) What seemed at times to be the equivalent of lightning striking twice has finally happened.

In some ways, embarking on a baseball career is a lonely walk for all players — young men who are often leaving home for the first time — but I knew from the moment I showed up for my first professional game, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., that there weren’t a lot of people who shared my particular experience. I was fortunate to have been raised in a town (Teaneck, N.J.) that embraced ethnic, religious and economic diversity. Otherwise it would have been much more challenging for me to find common ground with my teammates and coaches outside of that ball with the red stitches.

My minor league outfield instructor was the retired major leaguer Jimmy Piersall, and it took the two of us years to figure out how to deal with each other. He would tout his “painter’s son” background while referring to college graduates like me with a word I’d rather not put in this letter. But we found a space where we could connect: in the work ethic required to make it to the top of the profession we both loved. In the end, he became my number-one advocate, despite our diametrically opposed experiences.

I also spent a lot of my minor league career shaking off the exhausted “black athlete” labels of laziness, natural talent and nonchalance. I could only turn to mentors, my family and history to find my path, because there was no one else around who had my specific kind of challenge: bridging diversity, race . . . and academia. So I tapped the same source of strength that helped get my mother and father out of bed every day: they expected a degree of unfairness but knew that the people who had paved the way carried bigger burdens in much more difficult circumstances, enduring challenges just to find a job or to be able to vote.

It was a lot to juggle, but the saving grace was that, in the end, we all had to try to hit that baseball. We all had to perform. In some ways, that is what makes our game so great, it begs people to look beyond certain things because when they don’t, they miss some of its beauty.

I cannot close this letter without emphasizing that we must remember that our Negro League predecessors set the stage, turned on the lights and paid the bill, and now we were able to enjoy performing in the theater they constructed. We need to always keep alive their precious story — which is about baseball, for sure, but also about sacrifice and humility, patience and faith, forgiveness and perseverance. They represent everything baseball should want to be. Everything America should want to be. We are part of their legacy.


Doug Glanville

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A book worth buying

Area African-American role models abound
New book profiles 126 professionals; hopes to inspire local youths
September 19, 2008

PEORIA — "Value your education; volunteer, mentor advocate and participate. Be fair, be open to diverse ideas, and maintain good humor and a sense of integrity. Don't sell yourself short - but don't take yourself too seriously. Above all: do well, no matter what."

Certainly words to live by or to follow.

They belong to Lorene King, an academic skills specialist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, just one of 126 local African-American professionals living in Peoria and who are profiled in a book to be released next week, published by Illinois Central College.

Called "Role Models: Profiles of Successful African-American Professionals in Peoria, Illinois," the work is the brainchild of Rita Ali, ICC's executive director of diversity, who started a similar venture several years ago wanting to learn success stories of those she admired in the community.

"The book has changed me, inspired me more than ever, learning from other people's experiences," said Ali, who gave credit for the inspiration to one of her own role models, Romeo B. Garrett, Bradley University's first black professor, a key civil rights figure locally and author of "The History of the Negro in Peoria" and "Famous First Facts About Negroes."

The 268-page book highlights several who work for Caterpillar Inc., the city of Peoria, four judges, lots of doctors, an artist, several in the medical field, teachers and professors. Each individual shares a little about his occupation, personal life, his influences or inspiration, accomplishments and community involvement. The subjects also offer a bit of career advice.

There's executive directors, vice presidents of companies, department heads, managers and coaches. Combined, their annual salaries total more than $12 million. There's many names that are recognizable among the community and several that are not.

But more important than who is in the book is the inspiration to be shared with Peoria's youth.

Among the common links most of the 126 contributors share is having some sort of mentor, a caring adult, "someone who they looked up to," Ali said.

As one profiled in the book put it, "there's kids who say they don't have a positive role model in their home, in their neighborhood or in their life; their role models are those in (professional sports) - the untouchables," Ali recalled, "but these people - these role models - live right here in the community."

"The people in this book are real, they are accessible . . . These outstanding Americans are a true reflection of the depth and breadth of incredible talent within the city of Peoria," Ali writes in the book's introduction.

What's more, many of those profiled in the book have offered to serve as a role model in some way, either for the short-term or long-term, Ali said. "The book is serving as the hook-up," a vehicle to bridge the gap of need of the children and what the mentors can provide.

As to why 126 profiles: "There was no magic number, it was going to be 100 but we just kept getting such a good response that we kept going." Plans already are in the works for a sequel as well as a similar book that will profile African-American para-professionals, those in the skilled trades, and another highlighting entrepreneurs, which Ali hopes to have released this spring.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Real Role Models - An Update

Friends and Colleagues,

As promised, here's an update on Real Role Models.

We finished a draft version of the manuscript in April.
The early reviews were both flattering and overwhelmingly favorable.
We're putting final touches on the manuscript.
The book should be out early in '09.

That's pretty much it. But the long of it is that we've been working hard to continue thinking of how we can make RRM speak to and for those young Black students that we are so desperately trying to reach. I posted the video by John Hope Bryant below to help paint the picture of exactly what we're up against in terms of the lack of motivation and inspiration that has hindered so many young Blacks, males in particular, from reaching their potential and how many of us, not at all just Louis and I, are striving for the same thing.

We can make a difference. We can help others reach their potential. We can all be real role models.

Reaching out to Reading is Fundamental, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Teach for America, the Boys and Girls Club, and other organizations that look out for young Black students is just one way we're hoping to get RRM into the hands of those who can be impacted the most. Of course, one way would've been to have Sen. Barack Obama plug the book during his speech last Thursday...

Speaking of that speech, when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president it was an incredibly moving and powerful night. I am not ashamed to admit I teared up. I, too, was one of those kids that dreamed of being the president when I was five or six years old.

But, I found myself thinking, what about those Black kids growing up without such ambition or aspirations? What about kids who don't have a mom waking them up at 4:30 a.m. to work on their schoolwork? What about the kids who don't have grandparents to care for and help raise them? What about the kids who think that drug dealer, basketball player or rapper are their only options?

Part of me is worried that Obama's "celebrity" treatment makes him more like Jay-Z than Thomas Jefferson, but his career path and education stifle that thought. Still, part of me worries that having a Black man as president may mean one more profession to add to that list of drug dealer, NBA player, rapper, instead of doing what RRM intends to do: inspire and motivate young Black students to realize the opportunities before them and work hard to reach their potential. I hope Obama's candidacy reaches far beyond the New York Times headline of "first Black president" and into the heart and minds of millions of Black boys and girls who need hope and inspiration.

Some of us are not going to become Jay-Z or Barack Obama or Kobe Bryant. Some of us will be accountants and engineers and small business owners and teachers.

This is not to say that we can not all be rich and famous. This is simply to say that all of us have to realize true success is not measured by money or time on TV or, Obama would probably admit, votes. We can all be successful in our own right if we work hard, set goals and strive to make a positive impact, especially in our communities, as a certain Senator did in Chicago several years ago.

So, when I say we're working hard to make sure RRM speaks to and for young Black students, I mean we are striving to make sure that when a 15-year-old high school sophomore in Fifth Ward, Houston or an 18-year-old senior in Anacostia, D.C. picks up this book, they see more than some words about two dozen or so Black people who made a lot of money or got a lot of degrees or won a lot of awards. Or got a lot of votes.

We're hoping they see their own potential through this book. We're hoping they see themselves, through the paths made by those before them, as real role models. We're hoping.

Relevant Information, Timely Effort and Strong Leadership

A friend of mine works for Operation HOPE and I find this video message by the organization's founder, John Hope Bryant, to be extremely relevant, timely and sound.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Black boys 'need role models not rappers'

Black boys 'need role models not rappers'
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
10 Aug 2007

Black youngsters need a new generation of role models, drawn from the legal profession, business and education, to counter under-achievement and involvement in crime, a Government-funded report has said.

Too often the role models for young black men are celebrities and rappers who glamorise crime, guns or gangs, the independent Reach report said.

It came as a charity boss claimed that Britain's inner cities were starting to resemble American ghettos and that a lack of money was to blame.

"We need to create a society which does not leave our young people behind as the few become richer," said Chuka Umunna, a trustee of the 409 Project in Lambeth, south London, which helps youths aged 10-17 involved in crime or at risk of offending.

Involvement by black youths in gang-and-gun crime has taken centre stage in the wake of several high profile murders of black children, including 15-year-old Jessie James, who was gunned down while he cycled through a park in Manchester last year.

His mother, Barbara Reid, told the inquest into his death that her son had been murdered for "disrespecting" local gun gangs by his refusal to join them.

In London, 17 teenagers have been murdered this year alone.

An estimated four in 10 young people in gangs are reluctant members, joining under peer pressure or because of fears for their safety or the safety of their families.

Figures in yesterday's report, which was written by 20 experts from the fields of education, youth justice, the voluntary and community sector, law enforcement and business, set out the future economic costs of failure to promote equality of opportunity for black boys.

It estimated that tackling under-achievement among black boys and young men could benefit the economy by £24 billion over the next 50 years.

The figure includes the costs of the impact of lower educational achievement on labour market outcomes, schools exclusions and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Clive Lewis, the director of The Men's Room, a charity working with black young men, and the chairman of Reach, said that organisations tackling under-achievement needed support in applying for Government funding and that schools must be more consistent in closing the academic gap between white pupils and black pupils, especially boys.

He also said that black youths need better role models: "Black boys and young men desperately need a greater diversity of images and portrayals, showing that black men can be, and are, successful in a wide range of careers including business, teaching, the law and health care."

Uanu Seshmi, of the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation, said boys need self-confidence to reject gangs.

"A lot of young boys have been brought up in a toxic environment … where they're being taught to become victims," he said.

"And I believe in order for us to solve it, peer mentoring is a good one, business is a good one, but essentially, we need to teach young people to have a positive relationship with people."

Tim Campbell, the winner of the first Apprentice TV series and the founder of The Bright Ideas Trust, which aims to support entrepreneurs, said he would like to see money spent on education and business opportunities for young black males.

"The emphasis on role models is just a small aspect of addressing some of the issues, particularly with black boys in the community," he said.

The Government will give its official response to the report in three months.

• Two men have been arrested on suspicion of the murder of 15-year-old schoolboy Jessie James. The men, aged 20 and 21, are both in jail.

They were named as suspects after a witness came forward during the inquest into Jessie's death yesterday.

Police described the development as a possible breakthrough in helping to solve the murder inquiry.

Key recommendations:

* Calls for a structured National Role Model programme for black boys and young black men.

* Creation of a national umbrella body to provide support to voluntary groups that face "significant barriers" to Government funding.

* Stronger relationship and engagement between parents of black boys and teachers and schools to promote educational aspiration.

* Communities and Local Government Department should appoint a task force that will drive forward the Reach recommendations, reporting to a Minister for Race.

* Ofsted must provide greater consistency in the way schools are inspected to ensure schools close the academic gap between black and white pupils.

Black youths to get top role models

Black youths to get top role models
Alison Benjamin
The Guardian
Wednesday July 30 2008

Geoff Thompson, a writer, teacher and self defence instructor, who is being cited as a black role model

Geoff Thompson, a writer, teacher and self defence instructor, who is being cited as a black role model. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

Geoff Thompson, former karate champion and founder of Manchester-based Youth Charter for Sport, Turning Point chief executive Lord [Victor] Adebowale, and head of the Housing Corporation, Steve Douglas, would all be welcome members of the first Black Boys' National Role Model programme.

Concerned that too often black boys aspire to role models that can glamorise crime, drugs and gangs, the government has launched a programme to find black male achievers to motivate black boys to achieve and succeed.

At least 20 national role models, from a diverse range of backgrounds and professions, will be selected by an independent panel, including Apprentice winner Tim Campbell and fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, to share their stories of success in schools, youth clubs and young offender institutes across England. Applicants will have the chance to mentor in their local area. Improving the visibility of positive black role models was one of the recommendations to the government by Reach, an independent group drawn from public services and academia with in-depth understanding of the barriers facing black boys.

Launching the programme, communities secretary Hazel Blears said: "There are thousands of role models out there who offer great examples for black boys to follow. This is about harnessing their potential, making them more visible and getting more young people on the right track." The recruitment campaign will run until September 2.

· To apply to be a black boys' national role model go to direct.gov.uk/reach

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Raising Hopes by E.J. Dionne Jr.

Raising Hopes

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008; 12:00 AM

Will everyone dismiss Barack Obama's Father's Day call to responsible parenting as a simple political ploy?

After all, the man who would be our first African-American president is struggling for support from white working-class voters, many of whom have traditional views of family life and some of whom harbor deep suspicions about black men.

What could be more reassuring to them than his flat statement that "too many fathers ... have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men"?

"You and I know how true this is in the African-American community,"

Obama said, speaking at a Chicago church more theologically conservative than the Trinity United Church of Christ he recently left. "We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled -- doubled -- since we were children."

For a campaign that wants to fight Republican claims that Obama is a down-the-line liberal, here is a theme he has been talking about for a long time that simply doesn't fit into anyone's parody of liberalism.

Yes, his speech spoke of what government could do to meet responsible fathers "halfway." But Obama's emphasis was not on programs but on the personal responsibility of fathers to "be there for their children, and set high expectations for them, and instill in them a sense of excellence and empathy."

Moreover, Obama told his own story as the son of a single mother. She "struggled at times to pay the bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play." Yet he was devoid of self-pity. "I was luckier than most," Obama acknowledged.

For a guy accused of being an elitist, he didn't sound like one in this sermon, a perfect volley in that phase of the campaign when his imperative is to reintroduce himself to an electorate that still doesn't know much about him

This is all true. But it would be unfortunate if Obama's words were read only as an attempt to win white votes. It actually matters that a presidential candidate is taking the costs of fatherlessness seriously.

Every social problem is made much, much worse by the abandonment of children by their fathers. Yes, social justice depends upon what government does. Yes, government should do far more to relieve the burdens on those who struggle economically and work hard for little pay. And, yes, racism is a damaging reality that explains many of the problems faced by African-Americans -- including family breakdown itself.

But government simply cannot replace absent fathers. Government cannot do all the things that parents ought to do. The reason Obama's speech is important beyond all of the short-term political calculations and analysis is that it reflects a hard-won consensus that family structure matters.

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about "the weakness of the Negro family" in 1965, he was denounced for "blaming the victim." This was a misreading of what Moynihan was saying, and also of the purpose of his words. Moynihan's view was vindicated years later when many of the most important African-American advocates of equality came to see strengthening the black family as essential to the civil rights agenda.

All politicians should be required to read Moynihan's 1986 book "Family and Nation." It makes his essential point that "no government, however firm might be its wish, can avoid having policies that profoundly influence family relationships." He continued: "The only option is whether these will be purposeful, intended policies or whether they will be residual, derivative, in a sense, concealed ones." It augurs well that Obama clearly stands with Moynihan.


Another of Moynihan's good deeds was to discover the talents of a young man from Buffalo, N.Y., named Tim Russert, who died Friday at 58. Not enough can be said about Tim's many random acts of kindness (which our family experienced) or his down-to-the-precinct-level love of politics.

There are two things about Tim I particularly admired: his devotion to his roots in Buffalo's working class, which included a loyalty to his religious faith, and his devotion to fatherhood, as both a dad and a son.

It made perfect sense that someone who took fatherhood so seriously got his first big break working for Pat Moynihan. It is an accident of timing that Tim's passing received so much attention on a Father's Day. That is a great sadness because he should have been granted so many more of them. But the honor was wholly right and just.

E.J. Dionne's e-mail address is postchat@aol.com.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fathers often, but not always, best role models

The late Earl Woods, father of Tiger Woods, definitely fits into the category of a real role model.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Real Role Models - An Excerpt

Real Role Models - An Excerpt

I know I've mentioned Real Role Models, the book I've spent the last 12 or so months writing, to many of you. I wanted to let you know that the manuscript has been written and handed to my publisher and is currently being reviewed. I'll try to keep you posted on its progress as we approach our anticipated release date in early 2009. To hold you over, here's a snippet that has even more relevance given the most exciting sporting event happening right now is the NBA Playoffs:


Before we can truly understand the concept of a real role model, we must acknowledge there is no simple definition for the term role model. It’s one of those terms that is frequently over used or misused because no one has ever told us exactly who or what a role model is. Often times, people like to think about role models the way they think about people they’re attracted to: I’ll know one when I see one.

However, we owe much of our common thinking on the term role model to Dr. Robert Merton, a longtime Columbia University professor and award-winning sociologist who died a few months before his 93rd birthday in 2003. Dr. Merton received honorary degrees from several prestigious colleges and universities not for his terming of role models but after having coined some other well-known academic terms such as "self-fulfilling prophecy” and “unintended consequences.”

Still, one could only wonder if Dr. Merton had any intended consequences when he came up with the term role model. It was Dr. Merton who initially stated his belief that every man compared himself with other men within a certain social (and professional) role that just so happened to be the role we aspired to attain. In other words, if you’re a young Black student interested in having a career in the military, every adult will probably talk to you about retired Four-Star General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. In him, you’ll be told, you have yourself a real role model.

But today more than ever, profession should not dictate who someone views as a role model. For example, although I never aspired to be a rapper, I’ve been inspired by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter for years as he has accumulated fame and fortune while maturing, both personally and professionally. From this example, and the interviews conducted for this book, I established my own personal definition of a real role model.

A real role model is someone you admire who possesses and projects positive qualities that have helped them develop and grow, personally and professionally, and inspire others to follow in his or her footsteps toward success.

It’s a mouth-full, but everything necessary is included. For starters, your real role models should be people you admire. This is perhaps one reason why so many famous Black people cite their own mothers as their main sources of inspiration or best role model when receiving Grammy Awards or MVP trophies.

In the definition, there is an early emphasis on positive qualities because real role models should double as good people. While it is unreasonable to think being a real role model makes someone perfect (no one is), it is justifiable to expect them to be good people, at least by general standards. This, after all, is one of the reasons why Americans, and popular media, are so fascinated when celebrities have major character flaws that lead to things like drug addiction and infidelity. We are not only fascinated because of their celebrity status, but also because popular media has convinced us that these people are worthy of the highest praise and they have earned every bit of recognition (and money) they get. We are too often disappointed.

That said, when I say “good people” I speak to the nature of deserving one’s rewards such as honors and wealth. For a quick example, think about this: while winning the lottery then buying cars for your family members does not necessarily make you a role model, starting a community center with that money and working for 20 years to make a difference in the lives of others, outside of your family, may.

Also, the mention of personal and professional development indicates a real role model understands the important role personal success plays in helping one achieve success professionally, and vice versa. For proof of this, look no further than television shows like The Cosby Show or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where the main characters’ personal lives were depicted more frequently than their professional lives. We hardly ever saw Dr. Huxtable (Cosby Show) or Uncle Banks (Fresh Prince) - the role models of their respective shows - at the office. Even the TV writers realize that working all day and night and living without family or enjoyment may be the quickest or most expected route to professional success, but it doesn’t make someone worthy of role model consideration.

Lastly, the word “inspire” is included in order to acknowledge the often understated, but real influence one’s success has on those around them. One of the main differences between simple role models and real role models is the acknowledgment of their influence on others. For an example of this look to chapter 23 where we interview children’s surgeon Dr. Tim George, who proves having an understanding of your role and influence on a young person’s life makes you more of a real role model than being a successful doctor alone.

In all honesty, though, this definition of a real role model only goes as far as this book takes it. As you read these pages, you should tweak it and develop your own definition of a real role model, which helps you create your own vision of what kind of role model you want to be. Regardless of definition, I think there will remain some shared concepts and principles.

Amongst those shared concepts and principles of a real role model was the importance of personal responsibility. Each and every person we interviewed indicated that a real role model doesn’t run from the duty that is entailed in being someone’s role model. There are no Charles Barkleys here. Each one of them considers it an honor and privilege to be a positive influence in the lives of others, especially for young Blacks.

In acknowledging their duty, honor and privilege, these real role models are representations of the kind of people that exist throughout the Black community, albeit in hiding it seems, who can be a positive influence for others. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who could have been interviewed and included in these pages. It will be your task to take the lessons from this book and find some real role models of your own.

Also, I must clarify that I do not believe real role models have to be people you know personally nor must they be famous. While it makes for a much stronger connection to have that role model in your life on a regular basis, this is not a necessity. I have been equally inspired and motivated by some people I’ve read about in magazines just as much as people I have met before. However, you don’t need to look to a magazine or TV to find one because - as this book demonstrates - there are real role models all over the country.

That’s what makes it so beneficial to identify real role models of our own. Through role models, it becomes easier to see what opportunities are available both in your community and in your future, learn by example, and understand how one person’s path to success can be used as a roadmap for your own.

In many regards, that is exactly what a real role model is, a personal and professional road map. Sure, they may not all be as rich and famous as Jay-Z or as accomplished and dignified as General Colin Powell, but they can all represent a roadmap to success and fulfillment for someone.

Personally speaking, my mother, who never graduated from college or made more than $40,000-a-year, is my best example of a real role model when I think about the kind of work ethic I want to have and what kind of parent I want to be someday. Similarly, I don’t know what kind of parent Jay-Z would be (I do not believe he has children), but I know he’s been a role model to millions of Blacks because of the doors he’s helped to open for an entire generation of fans.

That said, it’s important that we not see real role models as having to be all things to all people nor should they be expected to be perfect (unless a certain Nazareth native is your role model). Instead, a real role model can be someone who represents the kind of parent, person or professional you admire and intend to be one day.

In other words, maybe you consider someone your real role model because of their work ethic or passion for what they do professionally or maybe it’s simply because they made it out of the rough neighborhood and went to college. Or maybe they raised you and your siblings on a shoestring budget and never complained about how much it seemed the system was built against them.

Definition aside, there’s no single image of a real role model, but there are many ways to identify one. That said, let’s briefly discuss one of my favorite movies, Above the Rim. Its story, although indirectly, is one about identifying yourself through a real role model in order to reach your own potential.

The main character, played by Duane Martin, had all the basketball skills he needed to get himself a college scholarship. Still, even as a point guard, he lacked the full understanding to be a top-notch leader on the court. That is, until he met Leon’s character, a former basketball star himself who learned the hard way and had a few lessons to share with Martin’s character. Although initially reluctant, both men were able to put aside their differences and work together - Martin’s character as the student and Leon’s character as the silent teacher - to win it all.

Sure, the movie didn’t win any Academy Awards or make either of the main characters mega movie stars. But that movie stands out more than thousands of others I have seen in my lifetime. Like Martin, Black youth (like others) must understand that there are many lessons about life to learn from others and that there are people ready and willing to help. This is the way to realizing your full potential. The way to rising above the rim.

So in going back to the creator of the term role model, let's assume Dr. Merton would be fine with my using another one of his terms by saying this book's intended consequence is to help young Black people, and not just the characters in movies and TV shows, get above the rim.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Best mentors give challenging advice, criticism - Chicago Tribune

Best mentors give challenging advice, criticism
Trusted individual can bring areas to your attention that you might not have noticed

Barbara Rose, Chicago Tribune | YOUR SPACE
March 24, 2008

The best mentors offer advice we don't always like to hear. They chide us, goad us, challenge us. Some even have the gall to tell us to straighten our frizzy hair.

Sometimes we reach out to them, but just as often they attach themselves to us. They can be annoyingly opinionated, and it can be hard to remember they have our best interests at heart.

Consider the experiences of Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Patricia Mendoza. She never planned to go to law school until a family friend and lawyer got on her case.

"I was very shy," recalls Mendoza, who talked about her friend at a recent "speed mentoring" event sponsored by Chicago's Alliance of Latinos and Jews, a 14-year-old non-profit group that builds bridges between the two communities.

"You would look at me and I would blush. My mother's friend insisted I apply to law school. I kept saying no. I told her, 'That's you, that's not me.' I just couldn't imagine being her."

When the older woman brought her an application to DePaul University College of Law and insisted she fill it out, Mendoza consoled herself with the thought she would never get in—but she did.

When she tried to drop out before her first set of finals, a professor refused to sign her withdrawal forms.

When she passed the bar and settled into a satisfying public-service practice, her mentor—by then a judge herself—prodded her again.

"You really should think about becoming a judge," she recalls Circuit Court Associate Judge Consuelo Bedoya-Witt telling her.

"No, that's not me, that's you, again," Mendoza told her.

But the seed was planted, and once again it took.

"One piece of advice I give to people now is, if someone you trust encourages you to do something and you're thinking, 'It's just not me,' don't just dismiss it. Sometimes people see something in us we don't see in ourselves."

Unspoken codes
Angelique Power, director of marketing at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, was a graduate student at the School of the Art Institute in the early 1990s when she took a part-time job working for an executive at a large corporation.

Oblivious to the company's unspoken codes, she dressed like an art student—rhinestone-studded cat-eye glasses, untamed hair—while taking a keen interest in her boss' work.

"I made sure I understood what was happening and, whether I was asked or not, I would talk to her about my opinion," Power recalls. "I think she was kind of taken aback and amused so she started to build a relationship, ask me questions, hand me challenges and allow me to rise to the occasion.

"She would invite me along to watch meetings, hand me projects to run, and when I graduated she offered me a full-time job" and later promoted her to run the department.

But not before setting her young protege straight. For starters, she told Power to straighten her hair—a potentially sensitive directive to a multiracial woman.

"She said, 'Here's the uniform, take it or leave it.' I took it,' " Power says. "There's always an unseen map. There was a cultural code you had to follow to be taken seriously. It's not anything you would find in any handbook, but it was critical for me."

The mentoring relationship deepened into a mutually beneficial friendship.

"This was a woman who was a high-ranking executive, but in my role I could always be very honest," Power says. "Others might be sycophantic. I became sort of the beacon of honesty."

It was hard to break away, Power recalls. But when she left the company and her mentor for the MCA, "I was ready to take everything I learned, all this business savvy, and bring it back to the art world, which is really what I wanted to do all along, and not brush my hair if I don't want to."

Thinking big picture
Aon Corp.'s chief diversity officer, Corbette Doyle, a champion of corporate mentoring, counts among her early influences a college professor who persuaded her to change her major from mathematics to economics.

"He gave me a world view of global business and made me think big picture in a way that I hadn't," says the Tennessee-based executive. "First I was going to be a lawyer, then a math professor, then an actuary. They were all fairly narrow disciplines. He really pushed me to take a lot of liberal arts classes and to think broadly about the array of opportunities."

When she was offered a fellowship to get her doctorate in economics he convinced her to turn it down.

"Go to work and get somebody to pay for your MBA," he told her. And that's what she did.

"He was the epitome of a great mentor," she says. "The best mentors help you think twice about paths or steps you shouldn't take, and that takes a lot of insight into the person you're helping."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Failure by Jam Donaldson

We’ve all had our share of failures in life. Lord knows I’ve had mine. The porno letter-writing business, my Tax class in law school, the cashless ATM scheme, dating that married guy. But there’s one particular failure that I can’t seem to get out of my mind. This is a failure of a different kind. I failed my cousin.

I have a cousin. He’s bright, handsome, and sweet but unfortunately he is on his way to becoming depressingly average.

Let me explain. My cousin grew up in a working class suburb. He was surrounded by a family who loved him, he was an average student, he was part of a local band and an all-around good kid. He got into college on a band scholarship and I could not have been prouder. His mom, dad and grandmother never went to college so it was a great achievement for him to be attending a local university on scholarship.

Growing up in an area where very few black men go on to pursue higher education, I was thrilled that he seemed to be on the right path to better himself and most importantly act as an example to his two younger brothers.

But, as you probably guessed by the title of this post, things didn’t quite go as planned. In the summer before his junior year, I got the news from my mom that my cousin wasn’t going back to college. I immediately called him to ask what the deal was. He told me that he had lost his band scholarship (his story changed several times as to exactly why this happened) and he could no longer afford to attend the school. He was going to work for the next semester and save money and go back to school in the spring or the following year. Well, we all know what that means, most folks who leave college never go back and I was determined that he get his college degree. SO, I offered to pay his tuition. I didn’t care what I had to do—whether it was taking out loans or selling ass on 12th Street, I was making sure that boy graduated from college.
See, I am blessed to have come from a family where education was stressed, C’s were not acceptable and college was not optional. So I tried to convince him of the importance of him staying in school and getting his college degree. And even with my offer to pay his entire tuition… he refused. He wanted to work, and by working he could save for school and also get a car. After trying and trying to persuade him, it became clear that the desire for a car was far stronger than his desire to get his college degree.
So long story short (I know I know, too late) he ends up working at some dead end random job, he never goes back to college and now has two kids by two different women. He’s not even 24. I feel like somehow I failed him, the family failed him. I know there is nothing we could have physically done, but I cant shake the feeling that our family and community let a vibrant life full of potential slowly descend into mediocrity, and did nothing.

See, for too long we have defined failure by its extreme manifestations: ending up in jail, becoming a drug addict, being a teenage mother. But, in my opinion, when we don’t see a young person all the way through to realizing his or her potential, its just as big a failure. In our community, mediocrity, doing enough to get by, is becoming an epidemic. And that realization hit me really close to home. I wonder what will become of these young people? In a world and an economy where there is little use for the ordinary, what happens to this generation? Where are the dreamers? Who are the innovators? Where are the parents who don’t allow failure, who read to their children, who tell them in the dark of night as they put them to bed: “you can be anything you want to in this world and the possibilities for your life are endless”?

Its like our bar of standards has dropped so low that as long as someone graduates from high school, we say they’re doing fine. As long as they aren’t in the system, we say they’re doing fine. Excellence is scarce. Vision is non-existent. You have a 62 inch flat screen and your kid doesn’t have a computer in the home. We aren’t taking foreign languages, we aren’t going into technology fields.

I want to go back to the mentality of our predecessors and embrace a philosophy of goals and success and striving to be the best and reaching the highest of heights. In this global economy, we cannot afford average. This is no longer a world where you can graduate from high school, join a union and work in a factory for thirty years and still be able to raise a family. By not challenging each other to be the best in whatever we do, we are doing ourselves a disservice and more importantly we are setting our young people up to be members of a self-imposed underclass.

With access to more opportunities than ever, our young people seem perfectly content settling for less. And I cant help but think that its our fault. Have we told them that there’s more, have we shown them what more looks like? Have we reinforced in them every waking moment that they can dream big and achieve their goals through education and hard work?
I don’t know. I just felt so impotent. Me and my smart mouth were no match against “easy”, against “quick” against “right now.” I love my cousin but it hurts my soul whenever I see potential squandered. Especially when someone is handing you an opportunity on a platter. I mean, if you’re not willing to accept and opportunity when someone is GIVING it to you, what happens if you actually one day have to work for it?

I keep looking back at what I could have done, what I could have said to change his path. But how do you convince a young man to finish college when he’s been raised in a world that tells him he should be happy just getting out of high school. My voice was lost among his friends and teachers and media who told him that good enough was enough. Those who told him that passing is passing, even its with a “D.”
Now don't get me wrong, in no way am I saying that if you aren't wildly successful, then you have failed-- the failure is in not even trying.

I love my cousin and it’s the people we love that we should be hardest on. Why do you think Im so hard on black folk? I just want us to get there and it just frustrates me when it seems the only thing standing in our way is ourselves. Sure, my cousin will be fine. But Im so sick of "fine," I want amazing.

Meanwhile, Im gonna figure out a game plan for his little brothers right now. Wish me luck. Maybe there's someone in your life you can start working on. Before its too late.

Peace people.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

'Don't try to duplicate' says MJ

Nearly seven in 10 sports fans say Michael Jordan is still the man. So who better than His Airness to ask if the league is headed in the right direction?
by Michael Jordan (as told to Ric Bucher)

The NBA doesn't have an image problem.

It has young guys who have young ideas. Maturity comes later, and sometimes too late to realize you should've done this or you should've done that. Kids shouldn't come out of school as early as they do. A year in college isn't enough. They shouldn't be allowed to come out until they are adults—21 years old.

Now, why shouldn't a black kid who isn't wealthy have a chance to provide for his family? That is an issue; I'm not walking away from that. The problem is some kids are mature and ready to deal with the whole NBA atmosphere, but many more kids are not.

I was a mature guy coming out of North Carolina, so when a negative thing happened—someone misinterprets what gambling means to me—it didn't stick. I stepped forward and said, "This is what I did, this is not jeopardizing anything, this is not an addiction," and the public listened. But I was a lot more mature when it happened. If I'd been in that position and had been asked that question at 18 or 19, I may have had a very different way of handling it.

When I turned pro, the league was looking for a change. I had the personality and the game and a style of play, and all that came together at the same time. All the stars lined up and catapulted everything that came after—23 different shoes, Jordan Brand, everything. It's a phenomenon. How do you explain a phenomenon? You can't. The only advice I can give to someone in the league now is to be original. The consumer isn't dumb. He or she can sense things being knocked off. Originality is what lasts.

David Stern hates when I say this, but in some ways he created his own problem. Look at the way the league markets its players. When I came in, they marketed the athletes themselves, how they performed, what they accomplished. To reinvent someone is very difficult. When you say a player is today's Michael Jordan or today's Magic Johnson, the first thing the public will do is compare him to the real Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. When the public doesn't see the same degree of success, you've just dug yourself a deeper hole.

You have to show the consumers something they haven't seen before, someone about whom they can say, "Hey, that guy is pretty cool." Magic, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, myself—we didn't start out as the league's partners. We evolved, then the league made us its partners. That's what the league has to do now—find guys who can grow up to be partners. Don't take guys and force them into our mold.

One thing to learn from me is that everything I've ever done has been me, not something that someone calculated me to be. It goes to my upbringing, my parents. I didn't grow up in the inner city. I grew up in a rural area, where values were magnified. You were taught how to operate in society, to be articulate, honest. Kids growing up in the city, they're more materialistic. My kids are going through that now.

I can wear a suit today and jeans with holes tomorrow, and yet people know they are seeing the real me in either outfit. I had cornrows when I was a kid, but it was before anyone knew who I was; would the public or corporate America accept me if I had them today? If I was willing to say, "This is who I am, I'm not trying to be so-and-so," maybe, but even then I'm not sure. When you see Michael Jordan today, you see Michael Jordan as a totally honest person, and when I say honest I mean real, genuine. I am who I am, and that's comprehensible to the masses and in many languages.

It's a tough task for the league to create a similar image for itself. It has to find the right mix between corporate and street, believe in what it's doing and live with whatever the response may be. Too many of the league's decisions are made based on the bottom line. People pick up on that. You can't be afraid to fail. The stars you have now might not live up to the icon of a Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, but maybe they will create an image that delivers an impact for you 10, 15 years from now.

All I know is—for the league and its players—don't try to duplicate something that has been done before. Do it your own way, and see where it goes. It might not hit the way you want it to. You may not make as much money as you want to. But there's value in remaining true to yourself.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Now is time for Tiger to fulfill father's prophecy

By Scoop Jackson
ESPN.com, Page 2
Updated: January 11, 2008, 11:18 AM ET

In the words of his late father, he was put here to change the world.

"He will transcend this game ... and bring to the world ... a humanitarianism ... which has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live in ... by virtue of his existence ... and his presence."

What Earl Woods foretold for his son in that Sports Illustrated article in December 1996, most of us have been privileged to witness. Not just on the golf course, but also in the way Tiger Woods handles life. Not only his, but life in general. He has been, if you look beyond the apparent, the perfect "Cablinasian" of Jordan, Oprah and Obama. Not only in skill, but in character, and in having the almost innate ability to make race -- specifically his race -- a nonissue. As Greg Garber once wrote on ESPN.com, "In the end, Woods has served as an example of racial harmony simply by being himself."

Now comes the hard part.

When the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman used the phrase "lynch him in a back alley" to describe how young players on the PGA Tour should overcome Tiger's dominance, it was the latest in a long line of inconsiderate and inappropriate comments that have been made about people of color (especially African-Americans) in the world of sports.

Tiger and his agent Mark Steinberg have called the comment "a nonissue," stating that Tilghman is a friend of Tiger's and that "regardless of the choice of words used, we know unequivocally that there was no ill intent in her comments." True. And with the Golf Channel suspending Tilghman for two weeks because of her gaffe, everything is now supposedly cool. All's forgiven. No harm, no foul.

Not so. The situation is foul. Not in what Tilghman said, but in the fact that she didn't consider the history of African-Americans in this country before speaking, and she felt, to a certain degree, "comfortable" enough to let that reference slip out of her mouth during a broadcast. And after everything that went down with Don Imus just nine months ago, you would think that we -- all of us -- would have learned something. But apparently not all of us have. And this is where the "existence" of Tiger Woods comes in.

Because of who he is, Tiger Woods has the power to make people listen. Not just hear his words -- but embrace what he has to say. His commercials speak to us. His educational facilities are changing the way schools around the country view education. It is understood that his friendship with Tilghman prevents him from reacting strongly to what was said or throwing her under a bus by using her as an example. He's too classy to do that. Surely, he has learned from his own verbal misstep as a young man -- that inappropriate joke he told a GQ reporter in 1997. Tiger probably believes Tilghman's comment was about him and no one else. And things like that don't affect Tiger Woods. Again, "nonissue."

But a nonissue does not translate to a "nonstory." Because in actuality, the comment wasn't about Tiger Woods at all. The context is much larger; Tiger just happened to be the victim. But being a victim of something like this (especially when you have reached the global icon status he has attained) does not mean that "ignorant forms of phraseology" about you are actually about you. You might be the target, but a lot of others can and will get hurt in the process. No man is an island. Which is why Tiger needs to say something. Not loud, but clearly.

If he looks at the recent history of broadcast insensitivity -- especially involving figures in sports -- he'll realize isolated incidents can't continue to happen "on occasion" for 25 years. Not at this pace. He'll see the connection to insensitive remarks from Howard Cosell, Al Campanis, Marge Schott, John Rocker, Imus and countless others.

He'll realize -- regardless of what we'd like to think -- not a damn thing has changed.

He'd realize a friend invoking the word "lynch" -- even when there is no ill intent or ill will behind it -- is bigger than him. He'd realize this is a problem bordering on an epidemic, and no one has really done anything to stop it. (Apparently taking someone's job away or publicly humiliating them isn't working.) He'd realize by saying something about the nature of how we express ourselves without taking into consideration -- or showing respect for -- others' ethnicity, gender, lifestyle, size, handicap, disability, etc. is just as important to his "existence" as winning 19 majors. He'd realize this -- this moment -- is what his father was talking about.

It's an opportunity that theoretically can't be missed. Not if he is to fulfill his prophecy.

Imagine if Tiger said something like this: "People, think. Think about what you say before you open your mouths. Consider other human beings, consider their pasts, consider their color, gender and culture. What was said recently about me was insensitive, but I can excuse that. Kelly's my friend. But the time has come for all of us to begin to respect one another to a degree that we won't allow incidents like this to happen again. This verbal insensitivity in sports has been going on too long, and we must all do our part to stop it. And that begins with us respecting other people's races and cultures before we speak. Listen, I'm not perfect. Even I have said some things in the past that were inconsiderate of others. But that has changed. Now, especially now, it's time for all of us to look at the roles we've played in letting insensitivity become an accepted form of racism. I'm Tiger Woods. It's time to change." Like I said, theoretically. Imagine the power of that.

It's a stand he needs to take because people who change the world eventually have to take stands. Whether strong or silent, good or evil, they take stands not to prove their beliefs, but to rectify a situation or condition. The entire nature of being able to change the world or using your "powers" to do it, means you acknowledge the world is not perfect. Hence, the word change. And with one simple statement, Tiger Woods has the power to do that. He can speak to a generation. Just one statement. The question is: Will Tiger Woods say something now that he's the victim?

The father said his son will do "more than any man in history to change the course of humanity." More than Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi, Buddha and Nelson Mandela. Said, "He will have the power to impact nations." Said, "He's qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles." Said, "The world is just getting a taste of his power."

I believe Earl Woods was right about his son. Now is the time for the son to make the father a prophet.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to him here.