MAXWELL:  Take strength from others’ wise words

2/23/1997 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Many young African-American readers of this column often ask me to explain how I _ a black male born into a migrant farm-working family during the 1940s in the South _ managed to become successful. They also ask me to explain how I maintain a positive attitude.

Because we are nearing the end of Black History Month, I thought that now is a good time to share my response to a wider audience.

Actually, I have no secret formula. Nor do I do anything special. I simply do, among other things, what most other successful black people do: Listen to my own heart; trust my perceptions and instincts; hold myself to extremely high standards; avoid hubris; measure my circumstances and environment logically and honestly; emulate those I admire; be as self-reliant as possible; enjoy the beauty of nature; serve others; surround myself with positive thinkers and self-starters.

I also study the insights and analyze the wise counsel of other people of color. Throughout the years, I have filled many notebooks and journals with the words of thoughtful people. Following is some of the wisdom that I have made a part of my life, that I regularly make the themes of my columns:

+”He who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured.” _ Ethiopian proverb

+”Language used correctly . . . expands the brain, increases one’s knowledge bank, enlarges the world, and challenges the vision of those who may not have a vision.” _ Haki Madhubuti

+”Bad language brings bad problems.” _ Ugandan proverb

+”Be diligent as long as you live, always doing more than is commanded of you.” _ African proverb

+”He who starts behind in the great race of life must forever remain behind or run faster than the man in front.” _ Benjamin E. Mays

+”Blacks must earn their way to higher achievement.” _ Thurgood Marshall

+”First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. . . . Habit is persistence in practice.” _ Octavia E. Butler

+”What motivates me is a sense of accountability to people who are important in my life. There are a lot of people I can’t let down.” _ Richard D. Parsons,

+”Take responsibility for every area of your life.” _ Axiom

+”It doesn’t matter what you are trying to accomplish. It’s all a matter of discipline.” _ Wilma Rudolph

+”The summer after I graduated, I was at Columbia Pictures for an eight-week internship. I saw a dearth of faces of color. I just knew that if I wanted to get through, I would have to go the independent route.” _ Spike Lee

+”The right mental attitude is more important than knowledge.” _ Dennis Kimbro

+”The pleasure you get from your life is equal to the attitude you put into it.” _ Anonymous

+”People who expect to achieve their goals don’t stand around talking about them.” _ Les Brown

+”Your world is as big as you make it.” _ Georgia Douglass Johnson

+”I come from a line of industrious people. I don’t mind hard work, for you see I believe it develops character and one of its more sterling traits: dignity.” _ Monifa Hakim

+”It doesn’t work in practice. You can’t give something to somebody to have. Then they don’t value it. Value is associated with hard work.” _ Richard D. Parsons

+”When rungs were missing, I learned to jump.” _ Williams Warfield

+”Never accept the negative thought, “I can’t make it because I’m black.’ You can’t concede defeat before you even start.” _ James Earl Jones

The next eight gems are from the book Message to the Blackman in America, by Elijah Muhammad, a founder of the Nation of Islam. More than any other person, he has given me essential rules by which to live as an individual and as a member of black America:

“Pool your resources, education and qualifications for independence.”

“Make your own neighborhood a decent place to live.”

“Recognize the necessity for unity and group operation (activities).

“Build your own homes, schools, hospitals, and factories.”

“Stop buying expensive cars, fine clothes and shoes before being able to live in a fine home.”

“Build an economic system among yourselves.”

“Observe the operations of the white man. He is successful. He makes no excuses for his failures. He works hard in a collective manner. You do the same.”

I wish that my young readers would buy their own notebooks and journals. Then, read widely and listen to wise people. Write down their words and use their wisdom to create solid, honest views of life.

Above all else, learn to make thinking positive second nature. It is one of the most powerful forces we have. Listen to the truth in these gems:

“Good things happen to positive people.” _ Les Brown

“. . .as you put out positive energy it comes back to you and if you put out negative energy it’ll come back to you too.” _ Everette Harp