Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“Mrs. Bond: Your communications have been considered. With your present feelings toward the official head of the institution I cannot see how you can be of that service to the institution that a teacher should be and am surprised that you even thought of remaining in your present condition of mind. You say in so many words that you have no confidence in the institution yet you are willing to use it as a convenience for the time being. As above stated it seems to me that with your present feelings it will be best for all concerned for you not to be connected with the institution. Respectfully, Booker T. Washington.” “February 16, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

While we do not have in our possession Mrs. Irene Bond’s communication to the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), it is clear in Mr. Washington’s response to her that she was none too pleased with the present direction of the institution under his leadership. To be crystal clear, no man or woman in leadership will ever be free from detractors-especially when their leadership implements change in areas of institutional culture that have proven beneficial to such detractors while being detrimental to the institution as a whole. All the same, the surprise here is not that Mr. Washington possessed critics within Tuskegee Institute (University) or beyond, the surprise related to Mrs. Bond was as follows:  “[I] am surprised that you even thought of remaining in your present condition of mind.” Whether in the 19th, 20th or 21st century, the very real need for “bread” or salary, often leads individuals to remain in organizations where they would otherwise leave, and such decisions often create a toxic work environment for other employees who not only remain for the bread, but remain because they believe in the institution’s mission and vision-its tradition and trajectory. And Mr. Washington’s “surprise” at a person remaining who thought so harshly of the institution or its leader speaks to the notion of vocational integrity. “Integrity,” involves harmony and union between one’s word and one’s work. When applied to one’s job, career or “vocation,” it means that there is an implicit understanding between employer and employee that the commitment to the institutional cause is something higher than the opinion of a singular individual-including the leader or the employee. Where there is no integrity in leadership or followership, there can be no trust, and where there is no trust, there can be no organizational success. Thus, trusting an institution’s tradition and trusting an institution’s trajectory requires integrity, and “integrity” is the single greatest 9-letter word.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“My dear Dr. Grimke: You cannot realize how much satisfaction your kind words of congratulation bring to me. I know that no utterance comes from your lips that are not sincere. The reception given my words at Atlanta has been a revelation to me. I had no idea that a Southern audience would treat a black man’s utterances in the way that it did. The heart of the whole South now seems to be turned in a different direction. You can easily see that I had rather a difficult task. First I wanted to be very sure to state the exact truth and of not compromising the race. Then there were some things that I felt should be said to the colored people and some others to the white people; and aside from these considerations I wanted to so deport myself as not to make such an impression as would prevent a similar opportunity being offered to some other colored man in the south.” September 24, 1895, Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In the days and weeks following Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Address (1895),” he received several commendations and congratulatory messages from a host of well wishers for this now historic address. In addition to remarks received from Francis James Grimke who was instrumental in the founding of the NAACP, W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois-his noted rival-remarked, “My Dear Mr. Washington: Let me heartily congratulate you upon your phenomenal success at Atlanta-it was a word fitly spoken.” In deed and in truth, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University) “had rather a difficult task” in delivering such an address that has profound reverberations, even in this present century. Mr. Washington’s detractors-including many who praised him in private-decried against the address calling it the “Atlanta Compromise” because of its emphasis upon industrial education and developing economic independence for African-Americans as opposed to pressing for social justice during that volatile period. Yet, what many failed to appreciate then about Washington-and fail to appreciate now about men and women in leadership situated similar to Washington-is that such men and women have multiple constituencies and audiences to appeal to. In 1895, in the Deep South, where Mr. Washington had spent 15 years building an institution of higher learning for formerly enslaved African-Americans, he needed to be especially keen, prudent and cautious about enflaming the fires of lynching, unprovoked beatings and murder, and the burning down of his facilities during a dark and infamous period in American history that is all too well documented. (For this man, unlike many of his detractors was in a position of leadership over students whose parents entrusted them to him, and if the institution were burned to the ground with several casualties because he spoke what others thought he should speak, one need only have a rudimentary historical imagination to understand the consequences of this.) On the other hand, he could hardly deny that the racial atrocities and social injustices committed against African-Americans solely based upon their ancestry and skin color could go unnoticed or unspoken on such a prominent platform. Thus, he-like most persons who have ever successfully led or spoken to diverse and multiple constituencies-followed a three-prong approach in his address: 1. “First [he] wanted to be very sure to state the exact truth…” (One will never go awry in speaking a plain statement of facts to audiences without regard to how such facts are received. As J.K. Miller wrote: “It is not the truth that people cannot handle. It is the consequences that stem from that truth.”) 2. Second, “there were some things that I felt should be said to the colored people and some others to the white people;”(It is a poor, paltry and partial speaker or leader indeed who makes one-dimensional arguments and directs messages of truth to one racial, socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural group or another.) The greatest speakers and leaders transcend such categorizations and will inevitably share truth that falls wherever it may. 3. Third, “aside from these considerations [he] wanted to so deport [himself] as not to make such an impression as would prevent a similar opportunity being offered to some other colored man in the south.” (Make no mistake, one’s words and actions in leadership always set precedents for those who come afterward. While one’s conscience and sense of “speaking one’s mind” may lead one to offer a torrent of remarks without regard to one’s constituency, the prudent leader exercises restraint for he or she knows that his words and leadership impacts someone other than himself.) And this final regard is the hallmark of Booker T. Washington’s leadership at the helm of Tuskegee Institute (University). Possessing real and actual responsibility with respect to others deepens one’s commitment and capacity for serving others and lessens one’s commitment and capacity for serving one’s self.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

 “Mr. J.B. Washington: You have been connected with the office now five or six years, and should know how to perform, at least common duties around the office. If you do not know it is your own fault. I entrusted to you the mailing of the Advertisers which were purchased at quite an outlay, and I find that the whole expenses, and work in connection with this work, are to a large extent, thrown away by reason of the fact that the papers were not properly wrapped. I did not suppose it was necessary to go into each detail and tell you how to wrap these papers. They have been wrapped, I find, with no idea of making the marked article conspicuous, and at least half of the person whom the papers will go will not see the article owing to your carelessness. It seems to me just that a part of the expense connected with purchasing these papers should be charged to your personal account.” – “February 27, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

It is amazing to continuously read the administrative and management philosophy that Mr. Booker T. Washington demonstrated in his correspondence and writings from 1881-1915-his 34-year long tenure as founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). For this man’s philosophy was truly without respect for persons and such persons included his very own brother-his younger adopted brother-Mr. James B. Washington.  Washington Baseball Field at Tuskegee University was named after James B. Washington who came to Tuskegee from Hampton Institute in 1890. He is affectionately referred to as the “Father of Athletics at Tuskegee.” Washington, the adopted brother of Booker T. Washington, organized the first Tuskegee baseball team in 1892. In the present communiqué, Mr. Washington’s remonstrations directed towards this employee, his very own brother were premised upon the following: “You have been connected with the office now five or six years, and should know how to perform, at least common duties around the office.”

If an employee has been at an institution for less than a year, one year or possibly two, one may readily concede a person’s relative unfamiliarity about the unit they have been given the charge over or have inherited from a predecessor. (The very best leaders do not rely upon such concessions for they immediately assume the charge over their unit and/or organization without regard to their longevity in the post.) All the same, Mr. James B. Washington had now possessed the charge of the unit he was leading for a full “five or six years,” and the expertise required for leading his unit ought to have been either been acquired by diligent acquisition or pursuit, or he might have relinquished his post and simply acknowledged before his employer-his older brother-Booker T. Washington that he did not possess the requisite talent, skillset or ability to do what the institution needed from him in his present capacity. (If it were a matter of lack of institutional support for what he had needed, he might have communicated this as well.) Notwithstanding, it is not an admission of weakness or non-strength to concede that one cannot do what is expected of him or her. Rather, such admission is the surest sign of both professional maturity and vocational integrity, and might possibly lead such an employee to a better position, within the institution or otherwise, more properly aligned to his or her skill sets and capabilities. We know that Mr. James B. Washington ably served alongside his brother Booker, and well after the passing of the university’s first president. Nevertheless, for the post he held in the capacity described above, Mr. James B. Washington’s efforts did not meet with the expectations of his employer-his older brother, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“Ever since the beginning of this school, we have made it a point to try to secure teachers who would be willing to work wherever and whenever duty called, and in this respect I feel that we have been unusually successful. This school is supported almost wholly by people who make sacrifices of personal conveniences in order that they may give to us, and I cannot feel that it is right to allow a teacher to refuse, without adequate reasons to give a small sacrifice of her time to work that has the good of the girls in view, while at the same time our Northern friends and others are doing all they can to support the school in the belief that each teacher is willing to perform her duty in the same spirit that they give the money. We have a large number of girls whose mothers have entrusted them to our care [and it] seems to me that you should count it a privilege to go into their rooms once in a while and get acquainted with them and help them in a way that will impress them all through their lives. Such work should not be counted a task.” “February 9, 1895,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

No single individual can ever be fully and thoroughly compensated at the level he or she deserves especially for all the good that one is able to do for students when working in an institution of higher learning. From attending events that celebrate student success in the classroom to cheering students on as they represent the institution’s proud brand and heritage in extracurricular activities, there is not a price that can be put on these interactions. And this was precisely Mr. Washington’s point in his communiqué to one of his teachers at Tuskegee Institute (University). Non-profit work, which includes higher education, is indeed a revenue-generating endeavor but revenue and high salaries are not the principal reasons for the existence of such organizations. The mission of non-profit organizations like Tuskegee University serve humanity in a number of ways, and the work of the university is to provide an education both inside and outside the classroom to equip a student for future employment and life-long living and learning. This is why it is generally “count[ed] a privilege to go into their rooms once in a while and get acquainted with them and help them in a way that will impress them all through their lives. Such work should not be counted a task.” For the man or woman who helps a single student on his or her pathway to full adulthood during such an impressionable period will be rewarded with something greater than mere money. This man or woman will be rewarded with the sense of knowing that his or her work has impacted not only the future of a single student but the lives of many others who will also become impacted through the single life of a single student.

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“Mrs. Scott: I am informed by Mrs. Kaine that you do not cooperate with her in the proper spirit in relation to the changes and improvements to be made in your department. I am very sorry to hear of this. I have stated more than once that Mrs. Kaine’s suggestions and orders are to be carried out, and I can certainly make no exception in your case; in fact, I am sorry that you take my time in compelling me to repeat an order which has already been given more than once. Mrs. Kaine is not here for the purpose of begging teachers to do what she asks, nor should it be required to repeat an order. I hope you will look at this matter calmly, and when you have thought it over, I think you will find that it is best for you as well as for the school to obey Mrs. Kaine and carry out her suggestions in the proper spirit. The school will be will satisfied with nothing less than this. I hope the matter will not come to my attention again. Yours Truly. -“December 28, 1894,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

In an earlier “Washington Digest” or “Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary” appearing just this week, we found the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington, seeking the services of one Mrs. Kaine to come alongside him to assist him with the mission and vision-the trajectory and tradition of Tuskegee Institute (University). And a quote recently taken from Forbes Magazine speaks profoundly to this dynamic of selecting capable leaders: “A leader’s job isn’t to be the smartest person in the room, but to fill the room with the smartest, most creative and most capable people. It’s when the leader gets out of the way that the real magic happens.” Yet, in the present correspondence, Mr. Washington was unable to “get out of the way [so] that the real magic happens.” Having sought out and selected a capable colleague to come in to assist him, Mr. Washington directed this communiqué to an apparent recalcitrant employee who simply refused to “cooperate with [Mrs. Kaine] in the proper spirit in relation to the changes and improvements to be made in [her] department.” It is a poor leader indeed who attempts to fix what is not broken; but, when there are clear and obvious needs for change and improvement-needs that all agree to but either have lacked the courage or competence to implement-and the leader assigns a capable, courageous and competent person to implement such change then it is incumbent upon the employee-no required of this employee-to comply with the dictate and direction. Moreover, when a leader of a large organization has to be engaged in matters already decided upon, it takes him or her from far more pressing matters requiring the attention of the chief executive officer. (This is why the leader selects competent persons to assist him so that he does not have to do both his or her job and the job of others.) And this indeed is where the “magic happens.” For when any leader selects or endorses the leadership of a particular unit, it is his or her strongest “hope [that] the matter will not come to [their] attention again.”

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“The more I come into contact with wealthy people, the more I believe that they are looking upon their money simply as an instrument which God has placed in their hand for doing good with. I never go to the office of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, who more than once has been generous to Tuskegee, without being reminded of this. The close, careful and minute investigation that he always makes in order to be sure that every dollar that he gives will do the most good-an investigation that is just as searching as if he were investing money in a business enterprise-convinces me that the growth in this direction is most encouraging.” -_Up From Slavery_(1901), Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

Although this historical fact is rarely heralded, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University), Booker T. Washington, ranks at the very top of all higher education fundraisers in American history. Mr. Washington’s letters and writings are replete with examples of his dealings with men and women who gave both large and small donations to the work of Tuskegee Institute (University). And it appears that Mr. Washington quietly and quickly-and the results indicate that he did so with accompanying quality-came to understand two of the single most important characteristics of those who are deeply engaged in philanthropic activity: stewardship and investment. The first of which is stewardship. No matter how wealthy an individual, organization, corporation or foundation may be, they will not simply give money to another to be wasted. (The individual or organization has not wasted its own monies nor the monies of others to achieve its great success so why should the individual or organization begin doing so now?) The guiding principle of stewardship often leads to the accumulation of great sums of wealth, and the notion that simply because an individual, organization, corporation or foundation has achieved great amounts of wealth will now, in turn, give away such wealth to any and every cause is unfounded. Proper stewardship in accumulation of wealth necessarily required decision-making and care in recognizing the individual or organization’s priorities and interests; thus, the mere giving away of money on the singular basis that the individual or organization has wealth is absurd. Investing is the second characteristic of philanthropic activity. One never seeks to invest in what will inevitably become a failed cause or enterprise. The very idea of investing is to receive a return. Whether this return is in furthering the individual or organization’s own cause being advanced in the investment or merely to have the return satisfaction of seeing the recipient actualize its own success, investment always seeks a return. Moreover, philanthropic investment into an institution is a way to become associated with its brand, cause and/or undertaking. What individual or organization seeks to be associated with a failed brand or cause? Rather, an investment in an institution is generally associated with investing in the documented and demonstrated-or soon to be-success of an institution. (In the latter regard, the earliest investors in new undertakings always receive the greatest return for they saw, believed and invested early on in what would eventually become a successful enterprise. And they did so before others who preferred to “wait and see.”) In sum, stewardship and investment are not only the hallmarks of givers but recipients as well. For if recipients are to every rise to the ranks of givers-indeed it is more blessed to give than receive for it indicates that one has resources to give-then stewardship and investment are individual and organizational traits that they must learn quietly, quickly and with quality. And Mr. Washington established the blueprint for this at Tuskegee Institute (University).

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University 
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tuskegee University: The Daily Word from Washington with Presidential Commentary

Daily word_header

“Dear Madam: Replying to yours of August 22nd, I would say that we wish to employ some woman who can assist us in improving our Household Departments. We wish a person who can stay with us long enough to get each department in the best possible condition. We wish one who understands the science of the household economy in the broadest sense, who will be frank in all her criticisms, and have the executive ability to have matters properly adjusted. It is my idea to have the one employed to take each department in turn, and remain in it long enough to make whatever improvements are necessary, all, of course, to be done in connection with the teacher directly in charge, who, I am sure, will be willing to cooperate in the right spirit.” – “September 5, 1894,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson  

The search for new employees to come alongside in service to a mission both broader and larger than any one person was not an unfamiliar undertaking for the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). Mr. Washington was always looking for talented and competent leaders to assist him in the carrying out of both the mission and vision-the tradition and trajectory of Tuskegee Institute (University) that he became the principal architect of. In a period where the tidiness of departments bore a direct impact upon the institution’s ability to court donors to help support the growth of the institution, Mr. Washington needed someone with Mrs. Alice J. Kaine’s skillsets. First, he needed someone “who understands the science of the household economy in the broadest sense.” Depth and breadth is the greatest 5 and 7-letter word combination. Mr. Washington needed an employee who had more than a passing familiarity or cursory knowledge of household science; he needed someone who can both identify problems and implement the necessary changes needed to bring departments in compliance. Secondly, he desired someone who could be “frank in all her criticisms.” (Hear again, frankness and directness is the surest way to ensure transparency when instituting change where it is needed, and a new employee arriving in an environment where such change is needed can ill-afford to be something other than “frank.”)  Third, she absolutely must have “executive ability.” Try as one might, there is no way to be an effective and efficient administrator or leader without “executive ability.” Whether these talents are inherent or learned through the crucibles of experience, this trait is a combination of many things but is summarily described as effectiveness. (Busyness is not the same as effectiveness. For the true sign of efficiency and effectiveness in leadership is getting deeds done without direction.) And finally, this new employee must be committed to remaining at it “long enough” to see the transformation to its completion. Possessing the appropriate fortitude, endurance and perseverance in seasons of both success and disappointment requires patience. It would be no quick work to turn around “household departments” that have long been stagnant or unattended to. This new employee would need the same patience and long-term service that her future employer had exhibited in his very long and very impressive 34-year long presidency of Tuskegee Institute (University).

Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.

7th President, Tuskegee University 
#TrustTheTuskegeeTrajectory #TrustTheTuskegeeTradition 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized