WHEN EDUCATION WAS A NEW THING

WHEN EDUCATION WAS A NEW THING

“In the early days of freedom, when education was a new thing, the boy who went away to school had a very natural human ambition to be able to come back home in order to delight and astonish the old folks with the new and strange things that he had learned. If he could speak a few words in some strange tongue that his parents had never heard before, or read a few sentences out of a book with strange and mysterious characters, he was able to make them very proud and happy. There was a constant temptation therefore for schools and teachers to keep everything connected with education in a sort of twilight realm of the mysterious and supernatural. Quite unconsciously they created in the minds of their pupils the impression that a boy or a girl who had passed through certain educational forms and ceremonies had been initiated into some sort of secret knowledge that was inaccessible to the rest of the world. Connected with this was the notion that because a man had passed through these educational forms and ceremonies he had somehow become a sort of superior being set apart from the rest of the world […]” – Booker T. Washington, _My Larger Education__(1911)

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

While the term “esoteric” is not entirely pejorative-it can mean that members within a certain profession or group understand and converse sharing many of the same assumptions or terminology-it is sometimes used to denote exclusivity meaning that information and knowledge is understood by a chosen few. In the present passage, the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University speaks to this latter formulation. Here he laments that often education-the act of teaching and learning-resembles the closing off of knowledge from others as opposed to its wide dissemination among many. Mr. Washington’s idea is that such knowledge ought to have relevancy and application for others beyond the sole possessor of this knowledge. Imagine that. The idea of education should not be exclusive to a limited few but should enlighten and have impact upon others in beneficial ways. Thus, not only are the recipients all the better for having received this knowledge but also the giver of this knowledge is made better. For this man or woman has completed the complete cycle of education. First you learn, master and apply for yourself. (It is is a poor teacher whose words do not resemble his or her works.) Then you proceed to teach others. And such an education can be found at many institutions of higher learning including Tuskegee Institute (University).

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Virtuous Heroes Podcast episode 59: “Looking Into Your Inner Self” with Brian Johnson

The Virtuous Heroes Podcast interview Dr. Johnson who they identify as a values-driven executive who motivates others to pursue excellence and be the best self they can be. Based on his own life journey — growing up in a rough neighborhood and “fighting” his environment in order to be a first-generation student – is a fascinating saga. Dr. Johnson’s philosophy of becoming comfortable with every aspect of one’s identity, “the good, the bad, the ugly,” is inspirational. For the full version click here:

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The Dinner between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois

“[To William Edward Burghardt Du Bois] Mr. Booker T. Washington will be pleased to have you take dinner with him at his home, “The Oaks,” at 6:30 o’clock this evening.” – Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee, July 6, 1903

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

There are a handful of historic dinner-time conversations that the writer of this commentary would ever wish to be transported back in time to listen in upon. And this one between the eminent and distinguished founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University, Booker T. Washington, and the eminent and distinguished, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois ranks near the very top. For in 1903, these two men were, arguably, at the very zenith of their spiritual (heart), intellectual (head) and physical (hands) strength. W.E.B. DuBois would have published his signal work, The Souls of Black Folk in this same year, 1903, and Booker T. Washington would only be two years removed from publishing Up From Slavery in 1901. In a little-known, yet most noteworthy moment in the history of both American and African American literary history, they jointly published the book, The Negro In the South (1907) containing 2 essays from himself and 2 other essays from none other than this W.E.B. Du Bois who apparently was teaching a summer course in Tuskegee in 1903. (And this was not their first co-publication. This would be the second book containing these two stalwarts in American and African American educational and intellectual history.)

All the same, one can only imagine the earnestness, frankness and thoughtfulness of their discourse on that evening. (“Depth” and “breadth” is the greatest 5 and 7-letter word combination, and this conversation would have certainly fit this description-completely opposite of a conversation that is flat, flippant and frivolous.) One would be deeply mistaken to assume their ideological differences were so deep-seated that these two men could not come together for dinner and discussion. One would hardly ever invite someone to dinner who he or she disdains and distrusts. One would not invite them into the confines of one’s home, particularly into one as auspicious as “The Oaks,” and amongst one’s family. These men likely expressed their differences with one another, but they assuredly did so honorably and respectfully in the presence of each other. In the end, one might never learn what the conversation was about; Yet, the singular invitation to invite one who has commonly been regarded as his chief adversary-possessing equal ability, stature and renown-speaks to the magnanimity of Tuskegee’s Booker T. Washington, who demonstrated one of his oft-quoted maxims: “I let no man drag me down so low as to make me hate him.”

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“Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the Civic and the Sacred: Not One or the Other but Both”-January 15, 2023 Albina Ministerial Alliance Annual MLK Worship Service, Allen Temple CME Church

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TITLES

“I do not say you should not use them, should not possess them, should not crave them, but do not make the mistake of feeling that titles are going to help you, unless you have got strength aside from the title. No amount of titles will put brains into a person’s head if the brains are not there before.” – Booker T. Washington, “A Sunday Evening Talk,” January 10, 1909

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

Hear this again and again: Positional and titular authority is the lowest form of authority. If a man or woman cannot nor does not command the respect of his supervisors, peers, colleagues and subordinates independent of a position or title, this man or woman is no greater than the man or woman who has no such position and title. Positions change, and the only permanence one can possess is that found in one’s own person in back of the position.

This is why the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University constantly impressed upon his students the need to constantly improve their own persons. Note the following: It is but half the task to secure the title or position. The most significant half is what one does with the title or position. (One must not only plan how to get the position or title, but what to do with the position and title when one gets it.) And the attention paid to one’s own person helps towards this end. Aside from acquiring credentials and competence, the comprehensive development of one’s CHARACTER is a third facet that can never be taken from the person in back of a position. (Character is not your highest moment or your lowest moment. Character is your most consistent moment.)

More importantly, Character easily transferable from position to position, unit to unit or organization-to-organization, which is why the singular, solitary focus upon a position and title (as opposed to the development of one’s own person) is unwise. For the man or woman who has “strength aside from the title” and who has “brains” in their “heads” will always possess these attributes without regards to a position or a title. (And they will always be desired and in demand.) And the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University who we celebrate in the centennial year since his passing (1915-2015) was not only such a man, but he also offered these wise “words” and set forth the accompanying “works” in his 34-year long presidency at the helm of Tuskegee (Institute) University (1881-1915).

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Men’s Soccer Back-to-Back CCC Championship

So wonderful to celebrate our 2nd straight CCC conference championship for Men’s Soccer and grateful to receive the signed championship soccer ball with all the team signatures. #wpuknights #mensoccer

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In A Rather Quiet Way

IN A RATHER QUIET WAY

Personal and Confidential

[To President William Howard Taft]

My dear Mr. President: In considering the matter of the new judge for the Northern District of Alabama, I hope you will bear in mind the interests of the Negro. The United States Courts have been, as it were, kind of “cities of refuge” for the colored people. I mean that in these courts they have been always sure of securing justice in cases that properly come under the jurisdiction of such courts by reason of the fact that the judges have been such broad and liberal men that the juries have represented a class of people who would see that a fair verdict was rendered.

Not only this, but in the United States Courts in the South Negroes have heretofore been place on the grand jury and petit jury and in this way they gotten recognition that they have not gotten in any other case. This matter, as small as it is, has gone to make them feel that they were citizens and has encouraged them not a little. With few exceptions, where narrow minded men have been made judges they have gradually used their influence in some way to keep Negroes off the juries and have made them feel that they had few rights in these courts.

Please do not take the time to answer this letter. – Yours very truly, Booker T. Washington, “May 6, 1909”

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

After “integrity,” and “knowledge,” “influence” is the third greatest 9-letter word. And in this letter to the 27th President of the United States of America, William Howard Taft, Booker T. Washington once again demonstrates that the range of his “influence” extended to the very highest levels of American government. In earlier correspondence, President Taft, who succeeded President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, made it crystal clear that the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University would still be expected to play a similar major role in advising the President of the United States as he had done with President Roosevelt. (The correspondence reveals that Roosevelt not only recommended Washington’s pivotal role in consulting on major affairs but also Taft readily assented.) All the same, we learn in the letter to President Taft three very important considerations about the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University and his “influence.” First, we learn, contrary to popular opinion, he used his “influence” to address issues that concerned one of his most important constituents: African Americans. Here again, one would be remiss to think that Mr. Washington did not advocate on issues of importance. Rather, he moved “in a rather quiet way” as he indicated in a previous communiqué. (The loudest communication is not necessarily the most effective communication, and Mr. Washington’s direct correspondence with the President of the United States is effective communication.) Second, the “influence” of Mr. Washington’s correspondence was certain in that it was marked “personal and confidential.” This was not one of many letters that the President of the United State or any man or woman situated at the helm of a large organization receives that may or may not come to his attention or was handled through an intermediary. It is clear that Mr. Washington’s letters would be read by the President himself. So much so that Mr. Washington did not even need a reply: “Please do not take the time to answer this letter.” Third and last, Mr. Washington’s “influential” advocacy was owing to sound, sober and logical reasoning. His letter thoughtfully and dispassionately articulates the potential success for President Taft in following his suggestion based upon both past and present successes in similar matters. (No doubt Mr. Washington was likely part of such decisions during the Roosevelt Administration.) All three of these reasons-along with many, many more-are why Tuskegee University celebrates the “influence” of Booker T. Washington in this the centennial year (1915-2015) since his passing.

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On Deion Sanders and the HBCU, PWI and African American Community

I have read many commentaries on Deion’s decision to go to Colorado. The most convincing assessment speaks to what was told to an already proud HBCU community (though not resourced heavily but understood in light of historical discriminations and a very proud HBCU educational, academic and intellectual tradition versus mere athletics and the decision he made two years later.)

The Deion situation is profoundly impactful for me personally and professionally. There is a delicate negotiation of personal and professional considerations that most persons who are not similarly situated in their professions simply have no idea about.

Albeit-my situations have not arisen to the prominence of Deion Sanders considering his wealth, fame, etc as a Professional athlete-what I will offer is that if you think the prestige of an institution-HBCU, PWI or otherwise- should take the place of your own Peace and Purpose, you would be greatly mistaken. (Many of you simply have no idea what a man in his position has to deal with.)

However, “integrity” is the greatest 9-letter word in my opinion and this is what is at issue. Unlike many HBCU presidents, he had the board’s backing without becoming a sycophant and the community’s backing (he never lived under the threat from board, Alumni or social media attaches that could lead to a firing or a “non renewal” of a contract.) He alone had the opportunity to do what many HBCU leaders dreamed
To do and he decided to do otherwise which is entirely his choice.

All the same, the lesson for those of us who are fortunate to have similar opportunities: let’s be mindful of the hopes in our word given to a community historically bereft of such hopes. Calling is not some mere capitalistic endeavor as many have now reduced it to. Calling comes from God and while it is not limited nor bound to location, it will be found in one’s words and works. (The root word of integrity is integer: Wholeness.) It is difficult to reconcile words to community members in the era of social media when your works
undermind these very words.

Deion is my brother but I think this moment is a watershed moment for our community to reconcile and come
To terms with what we view as success. 👏🏾🙌🏾👑

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I CAN DO MORE GOOD HERE THAN ELSEWHERE

I CAN DO MORE GOOD HERE THAN ELSEWHERE

“Dear Sir: Your kind favor of May 2nd, asking if I could be induced to accept the position of President of Alcorn College is received. I am pleased to know that you should think of me in this connection, and of course feel complimented in the highest degree, but I think it best to say in the beginning that I do not think I could be induced to give up my present position. The salary you name is much larger than I am present receiving but I prefer to remain for the reason that I think for some years to come I can do MORE GOOD here than elsewhere, and for the further reason that there are a number of individuals throughout the North who have given and are giving rather large sums of money to this work, based on their faith in my devotion to this work […]”– “May 9, 1894,” Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

Highly successful men and women of character, competence and credentials are rarely without suitors for their services. And the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University) was no exception. Mr. W.B. Murdock of Alcorn College approached Mr. Washington hoping that he “could be induced to accept the position of President of Alcorn College.” And what is most remarkable in Mr. Washington’s reply was not his gracious recognition of the “compliment,” but rather his reasons for not acquiescing to the offer and to remain at Tuskegee Institute (University): “[…] I prefer to remain for the reason that I think for some years to come I can do MORE GOOD here than elsewhere…”. Imagine that. A person electing to remain at an institution on the basis of the GOOD he or she might be able to do as opposed to having a larger salary? Perhaps this is an old-fashioned 19th Century notion or perhaps Mr. Washington and men and women of his ilk-unlike many in the present century-were men and women of purpose. And “purpose” is the single greatest 7-letter word.

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Be Sure My Yard is Well Cleaned

“[New York City Nov. 10, 1915] [To Alexander Robert Stewart] Be sure my yard is well cleaned.” – Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson 

In all likelihood, this was the final letter written by the eminent founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). (For Booker T. Washington died on Sunday morning November 14, 1915-not 5 days later-after requesting to return to Tuskegee, Alabama to spend his final days.) Until his death, Mr. Washington wrote several short letters with instructions to his colleagues in Tuskegee with the above being the last: “Be sure my yard is well cleaned.” While one may regard this final communiqué as someone who regarded his yard more important than his soul, this is not so. For this final writing was a reflection of his soul indeed-a soul devoted to his work. Tales abound in the Tuskegee community about Mr. Washington’s intense devotion to work, and there is no greater joy for a man or woman than to be engaged in a line of work that honors both the souls of men and their own. Mr. Washington spent countless hours in the yard and in the garden working, when time and travels permitted. Mr. Washington took great pride in the now world-renowned “Oaks,”-the president’s home at the time, located on the Tuskegee University campus, the only national park on a fully functioning college campus. Annually, thousands of visitors trek across the nation and the world to visit the home site of Tuskegee’s founding principal and president. So perhaps Mr. Washington’s final concern for his yard being cleaned was not only for that generation but also for the many future generations that would follow in the 100 years since his death.

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Executive Council

EXECUTIVE COUNCIL

“I would not be doing my duty to the school did I permit the present state of things to exist, especially in view of the fact that I am compelled to be away from the school a large part of the year and I am compelled to perform my work almost wholly through the members of the Executive Council and there must be only such persons as I have my complete confidence in and share my desires as to the policy and work of the institution.” “March 26, 1895,” – Booker T. Washington

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson

Of the many important decisions leaders of large organizations must make, deciding upon one’s senior leadership team is perhaps the most important. For these men and women become extensions of a leader so that he or she might be in many places at once. And this is the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University’s idea when he writes the following: “…I am compelled to be away from the school a large part of the year and I am compelled to perform my work almost wholly through the members of the Executive Council and there must be only such persons as I have my complete confidence in and share my desires as to the policy and work of the institution.” First, Booker T. Washington’s travel often took him away from the home front so that he might represent the interests of the institution both near and abroad. No leader can ever feel comfortable when absent from the organization unless he or she is most certain that affairs will be conducted in a manner that reflects his or her management when they are present. Second, the broadest and widest tents have more than one pole. It is a poor leader who seeks to be the sole source or “pole” of leadership within an organization or unit. (How shall a tent become enlarged with only one pole?) The more poles, the larger the tent, and the selection of many poles enable a leader to expand and “work almost wholly through the members” of his or her “Executive Council.” Third, Mr. Washington suggested, “there must be only such persons as I have my complete confidence in and share my desires as to the policy and work of the institution.” Note, competence is good but character plus competence is better. (Here again, integrity is the greatest 9-letter word.) Men and women who work with integrity will perform their work in view of the organization’s mission and vision, its tradition and trajectory without regard to the presence or absence of the leader. Moreover, these men and women must possess the confidence of the leader. (How can a quarterback call plays in a huddle of teammates only to discover that the teammates are giving the plays to the opponent?) Much rather, teammates are selected on the basis of their commitment to a common goal, and a leader’s selection of teammates suggests much about who he or she has “complete confidence in,” and who “share[s] [his or her] desires.” For it is “the policy and work of the institution”-not the individual leader or team member-that makes for a highly functional and highly successful organization like Tuskegee Institute (University) during the 34-year tenure of Booker T. Washington.

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