Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Earl G. Graves, Sr.: Don’t Just Get Mad—Get Involved!

A Seedling In A Forest Of Giant Sequoias:
The Great Myrlie Evers-Williams (Widow Of The Great Medgar Evers) And Legendary Businessman & Founder Of Black Enterprise Magazine Earl Graves Are Fans Of The Art Of R2C2H2 Tha Artivist

Don’t Just Get Mad—Get Involved!
Written by Earl G. Graves, Sr.
Black Enterprise Magazine
April 13, 2010
It’s the news story that just won’t die. The names, states, titles held, and offenses committed may change, but the basic theme is all too familiar. Politicians abusing their power, committing ethical and, in some cases, legal breeches, and betraying the confidence and trust of the citizens they pledged, then pretended, to serve.

I am sick of it. We are all sick of it. And sickened by it. But we cannot allow the actions of our suspicions about any so-called public servant to strip us of our belief in a political process that has been fundamentally successful for centuries. More importantly, we must not become so cynical that we opt out of our fundamental duty as citizens to be engaged in that process. Let’s not forget that the very ability to participate in the process is an honor and a right for which many died.

You don’t like what’s happening? You can change it with your vote, or with e-mails or letters to your local or state representatives. Write to your local newspaper or start a solution-oriented blog. Or step up to run for office and begin climbing the ladder of public service yourself. The point is, now more than ever, complacency is perhaps the worst crime of all. And all too often, we as African Americans are—in this regard—guilty.

Like it or not, from healthcare to education to environmental protection to business ethics and entrepreneurship, politics frames the conversation, charts the path, and often provides the access. Those who control the political process control our fate. Political power, even at the most limited local levels, can make all the difference.

I learned that firsthand, as a child, watching my mother wield her considerable influence as president of my public school’s PTA. When she put on her hat and walked into that school office--all five feet of her--she commanded everyone’s attention, including the principal’s.

Those early lessons were broadened and driven home for me when I worked as an aide to Sen. Robert Kennedy in the late 1960s. His life and term of service were far too short, but Kennedy’s lessons in how politics can and did change people’s lives for the better have never left me.

Kennedy was as shrewd as some of his detractors have portrayed him to be, but that quality never in any way compromised his sincere commitment to public service fueled by the belief in the power of the individual to enact positive change for the

We must not become so cynical that we opt out of our fundamental duty to engage in the political process

To him, public service was just that: service. It was an extension of one’s absolute duty to family, church, community, the military, and one’s country. Service rarely demands that you check your ego at the door nor is it necessarily selfless. If done well, it always carries with it a large measure of personal gratification and, sometimes, credit.

But service, by definition, is more about what one contributes than what one receives. Too many of today’s politicians, at every level, seem to have forgotten that. All the more reason that you and I must remember—and remain involved.

Without a doubt, my career in business has been vibrant and rewarding. But it’s my lifelong commitment to service—whether through military service in the U.S. Army as an officer, government service with Kennedy, dealing with constituent projects too numerous to count, or serving on the national board of the Boy Scouts of America, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year—that has shaped my life, my goals, my perspective, and even my career as an entrepreneur.

Service empowers ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It is, by its nature, educational and energizing. It can even be transformative. Above all, as President Obama has so often insisted, it is necessary to the success of our nation on every level. And our full engagement, be it in politics at the highest levels or grassroots movements at their most modest, has never been more necessary.

So, go ahead, blame your senator, curse your congressman, gripe over the latest lousy revelation about Governor Fill-in-the-Blank. But first take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself: What have you done for us lately?

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