He wiped nervous sweat from his brow and gripped the podium, taking a deep breath. Everything was riding on his next words.
The son of an enslaved man, Richard Greener was Harvard’s “experiment.” Something to be pointed at like a zoo animal. He was the first Black man in their prestigious college – but that wasn’t why he was standing at the front of this stuffy room.
He breathed deeply, ignoring the hateful glares that wanted him to doubt his self-confidence.
White professors filled the auditorium, waiting for him to speak – expecting a laughably unintelligent speaker, as they imagined all Black people to be. They wanted him to be crushed in this speech competition.
Greener focused his mind on his people’s long history of wisdom and brilliance, then opened his mouth.
His elocution stunned them! The art of speechmaking – of crafting words into paper airplanes to cut through the air and into the audience’s minds – showed them Black men could execute eloquent speech better than them!
In that moment, he defined himself – he had nothing to prove to them. But did he win the contest?
Yes – he won the Bowdoin prize for elocution not once but TWICE! Like Greener, if we maintain a positive self-image as we strive towards our goals, we can meet and exceed our own and our ancestors’ wildest dreams.
What are you doing to maintain a positive Black self-image?