“I hope that each of you as you go out for the summer, whether you go out with the view of returning here to finish your course of study, or whether you go out as graduates of the institution, I want each of you to remember that you are going to go backward or you are going to go forward. It will be impossible for you to stand still. You will either go upward or you will go downward, and as you go upward, you will take others up with you, or as you go downward, you will take others with you.” “Sunday Evening Talk,” “May 13, 1900,” Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
In life, leadership and a host of other endeavors, one can hardly expect to move “forward” or “upward” while “stand[ing] still”. As the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University eloquently articulates in one of his “Sunday Evening Talks” with students, “you are going to go backward or you are going to go forward.” To be sure, Mr. Washington’s idea of moving “forward,” “backward,” “upwards,” or “downwards” is not an absolute formula. There are a great many occasions where perceived “backward” movements propel individuals and organizations “forward,” and perceived “upward” movements move individuals and organizations “downward.” Notwithstanding, the idea contained in Mr. Washington’s aforementioned formulation speaks most precisely to “activity” or “inactivity,” which is otherwise known as, “stand[ing] still”. History and contemporary society are replete with examples of men, women and organizations whose constant activity have led to a single monumental success after many repeated failures. Yet, what is constant in both the successes and failures is “activity.” Mr. Washington has also described it as, “going”. And while it is true that busyness is not the same as effectiveness, it is equally true that the man, woman or organization that is busy “going” is more likely to become successful as opposed to those who are “standing still.”
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University