“I said I would take living men and women for my study, and I would give the closest attention possible to everything that was going on in the world about me […] I said to myself that I would try to learn something from every man I met; make him my text-book, read him, study him and learn something from him. So I began deliberately to try to learn from men. I learned something from big men and something from little men, from the man with prejudice and the man without prejudice. As I studied and understood them, I found that I began to like men better; even those who treated me badly did not cause me to lose my temper or patience, as soon as I found that I could learn something from them.” -Booker T. Washington,My Larger Education (1911)
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Of his many writings demonstrating the magnanimity of Tuskegee Institute’s (University) founding principal and president, this sits on top. For the most learned men and women are those who continue to learn, and there is no greater “text-book” to learn from than the lives of men and women. And Mr. Washington not only learned from great men and women-those who have achieved fame deservedly or not-but he learned “from big men and something from little men.” He even learned from his enemies. Any man or woman “with prejudice” is an enemy to humanity because this person has predetermined expectations of what a person within a racial, ethnic, socio-economic, religious or organizational group is capable of without regard to examining the merit and makeup of the singular individual. Even in this, Mr. Washington was able to “learn something from them.” When one learns about people, you learn about yourself. And this understanding leads to one of the most important facets in leadership and service to others: All people understand and show favor to the leader who recognizes that his or her condition is very much like their own.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University