Opinion: Move forward, look back

Jul 30, 2010


As young professionals, we’re told to constantly move forward and take advantage of the opportunities we are given. However, we also must look back.

The West African principle of Sankofa means “it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” The “past” Sankofa refers to is not a person’s individual past, but their heritage and ancestry.

People of color have a rich and intricate history filled with the stories of those who came before us and made our lives possible. Recent generations haven’t had to brunt the same kind of adversities as our predecessors. But this is not to say today’s young people don’t endure hardships.

Today you see people doing what’s necessary to advance themselves; and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it is wrong when an individual forgets that they are a part of a community.

Shirley Sherrod, a former worker of the U.S. Agriculture Department, is a prime example of someone who maintained the balance of individual and community advancement. She has been a foot soldier for the movement for more than 50 years. She was a civil-rights activist who made it her goal to fight against the discrimination of black farmers in western Georgia starting in the late 1970s. Throughout her career, she has never strayed from her mission and has remained an agent of positive change.

Sherrod has seen her way through many hardships, all while staying positive and optimistic. These two things can be very hard when dealing with injustice.

Thursday, I had the opportunity to hear Sherrod speak during a panel discussion before the opening ceremony for the National Association of Black Journalists 2010 Convention and Career Fair.

Sherrod discussed the recent controversy surrounding her unjust removal from the position as the Director of Agriculture for the state of Georgia.  She also shared her feelings on the state of the black community in regards to the lack of knowledge and appreciation young black people have for their history.

Sherrod referred to the way racial issues are handled in this country and how they are “swept under the rug.” Ignoring issues, especially those dealing with race, exacerbates the problem.

Some people believe discussing racial issues fuels the fires of prejudice and racism, when in actuality, dialogue and education are the only means to eliminate them.

There are many professions which allow people to inform and educate others about important issues through their work. Individuals in those fields understand that it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

As young journalists we shouldn’t be afraid to tackle the uncomfortable issues like race. I believe it’s our job to take advantage of opportunities to expose injustices and turn them into teachable moments.

CNN anchor Don Lemon visited the NABJ student newsroom and shared some very important words of wisdom with the 2010 student project participants.

“Be passionate and fearless…there is nothing to lose but a job.” For most people losing a job is a big deal, but so is standing up for what is right and making a difference when you can. Doing what is right is not always going to be popular, but according to Mrs. Shirley Sherrod… “Right will win in the end.”

So, when you see opportunities to expose injustice or inform other people of color about our history, do so because knowing who you are will do nothing but strengthen your sense of self.