“From oppressive and crippling surroundings, George Washington Carver lifted his searching, creative mind to the ordinary peanut, and found therein extraordinary possibilities for goods and products unthinkable by minds of the past, and left for succeeding generations an inspiring example of how an individual could rise above the paralyzing conditions of circumstance.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says about famous Black inventor George Washington Carver
The persecution of African Americans seem to be much more in style than ever before. While incarcerated, prisoners become change agents. It’s where they have the opportunity to purify their spirits, restore their ingenuity, and spend time with a higher power. They become big thinkers and social change agents.
Being incarcerated, for those working to transform their minds even while in solitary confinement, places them in line and in direct communication with God. The divine moment can be high voltage and direct.
Will you allow the presence of adversity to redefine your purpose, life mission, and miss the opportunity for others to be inspired by your resilience?
While imprisoned, some of our great leaders influenced history. Malcolm X, then Malcolm Little, who was jailed at age 20 for burglary, while in confinement and faced adversity, found his purpose. It led to his transformation. He changed his thinking, his eating habits and he embraced his gift. He learned to read. He had a mission to an entire nation, to inspire generations. He didn’t allow his confinement to harness or muzzle his ideals. He became a leading spokesman. As stated in “Learning to Read,” an excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he writes, “It was because of my letters that I happened to stumble upon starting to acquire some kind of a homemade education. I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote, especially those to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there. I had commanded attention when I said something. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn’t articulate, I wasn’t even functional. How would I sound writing in slang, the way one would say it, something such as, ‘Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat, Elijah Muhammad —’ ”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned an open letter while in jail in Birmingham promoting nonviolence in the face of racism and bigotry. King serves as an inspiration to many who can truly comprehend this victory and the value his revelations had on shaping the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement.
The imprisonment of these great leaders are examples why systemic oppression and bondage can be confronted and overcome by sharpening your minds. We have to push beyond the limits we place on ourselves, and overcome. Yes, it hurts. But success abounds for those who are ready to shine. Do not abdicate your responsibility to be great. If you pause and pay too much attention to your circumstance and “reality” starts to set too far in, you’ll succumb to your confinement. Don’t. It’s your job to lead people out of bondage of the mind.
Know that you are a vessel to benefit humanity. Allow confinement to operate like fire that purifies gold and shapes steel. Don’t view solitary confinement as isolation. Reimagine it as tranquility. It’s a place to restore your mind and spirit. South African President Nelson Mandela didn’t allow jail to mute his success. Think outside the brick-and-mortar. Showcase your brilliance to the world like Malcolm, Martin and Mandela. During their captivity, they stood as leaders and their level of character was elevated to inspire generations for eons. They each were committed to greatness. They are respected.
Even Jesus Christ was punished, jailed and crucified. Can you see the test clearer? Each of these leaders led a movement from Civil Rights to Apartheid to crusading for a cause. In the wake of today’s Black Lives Matter Movement, many will be jailed, some will die, but the Movement must continue. Prison and jail can’t stop its success. Speak greatness. Banish sorrow. Avoid victimhood. Success is a part of you. As acclaimed motivational speaker and writer George Fraser points out in Success Runs in Our Race.
For pop culture’s sake, even Tupac recorded some of his greatest hits, on All Eyez on Me, directly after his release from prison. There’s a long list of great leaders who have mugshots for movements they’ve championed including Rev. Jesse Jackson who was arrested with a group for protesting with northern Illinois workers during an act of civil disobedience in Freeport. Congressman John Lewis has been arrested 45 times — 40 times during the Civil Rights Movement. Since serving in Congress, he’s been arrested five times — twice at the South African embassy protesting apartheid, twice at the Embassy of the Sudan protesting genocide in Darfur and today he was arrested to demand dignity and respect for immigrants.
Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This single act of nonviolent resistance sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, an 11-month struggle to desegregate the city’s buses. George Clooney was arrested for civil disobedience after taking part in a protest outside of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. — his father, Nick Clooney, and two U.S. congressmen were by his side — to call attention to the growing “humanitarian crisis” in the war-torn country. Danny Glover was arrested after participating in a massive protest outside of the U.S. headquarters of Sodexo, Inc., in Gaithersburg, Md., to rail against the French food management giant for allegedly paying an unlivable wage and offering poor benefits. Hayden Panettiere was part of a group of protesters from the United States and Australia who paddled out on surfboards to a cove near Taiji in southwestern Japan to disrupt a Japanese fishermen’s annual ritual of slaughtering whales and dolphins. Woody Harrelson was arrested after scaling the Golden Gate Bridge in a protest to save an entire 60,000-acre ancient redwood grove in Northern California. Susan Sarandon was arrested while in high school for protesting the Vietnam War. Bree Newsome was arrested after a daring removal of South Carolina Confederate Flag from the statehouse steps in Columbia, in the wake of the brutal killings of nine churchgoers at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Don’t deny your success and allow jail to have a stronghold on you physically or mentally. Be the history making change agent our community needs you to be. Peace.