by Virgil Beato
Black History Month celebrations
largely focus on those who secured equal rights for all: People
such as Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass and Dr. Martin Luther
What's often overlooked, however,
is the path of opportunity they paved and its importance today.
The accomplishments of living
African-Americans can provide the younger generation with hope
for the future. Past heroes deserve no less honor, but drawing
attention to those who seized upon the opportunity they secured
lays the groundwork for a more prosperous future.
* Before running for the U.S.
Senate in Georgia last year, Herman Cain spent over 25 years
in the business community - most notably as president of the
Godfather's Pizza chain (which he saved from financial ruin in
the late 1980s). He also served as president and CEO of the National
Restaurant Association, where he made national headlines after
challenging former President Bill Clinton on his health care
proposal on behalf of small businesses during a nationally-televised
townhall meeting in 1994.
* Kenneth Chenault is now chairman
and CEO of the American Express Company after spending over 20
years working his way up the ranks of the Fortune 500 giant.
Chenault helped revolutionize the company by increasing the variety
of credit cards issued from four to 60. When the company's headquarters
in the World Trade Center was damaged in the 9/11 terrorist attack,
he kept the company stable during a time of great difficulty.
* Dr. Ben Carson is the director
of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutes
in Baltimore. In grade school, Dr. Carson struggled to succeed.
With the encouragement of his mother, who only had a third grade
education herself, he rose to the top of his class and earned
scholarships to both college and medical school. He is a world-renowned
expert in separating conjoined twins previously considered inseparable.
He also refined a technique for radical brain surgery known as
hemispherectomy, which is used to treat seizures, and has written
over 90 neurosurgical publications and three bestselling books.
A one-act play, Ben Carson, M.D., has even been produced about
* Ann Marie Fudge is the president
of the Young & Rubicam advertising firm. She became recognized
as one of America's top corporate women while serving as an executive
at Kraft Foods, where she successfully revived old brands such
as Log Cabin Syrup, Minute Rice and Stove Top Stuffing. Fudge
successfully linked Kraft's business objectives to projects benefiting
the communities Kraft serves.
These people obviously owe
a debt of gratitude to those who came before them, but they deserve
admiration for taking advantage of available opportunities. Thurgood
Marshall and Reverend Otis Brown may have been key to the integration
of our public schools, but Dr. Carson and the others took advantage
of it. They stayed in school and strove to succeed.
These modern-day heroes also
share strong family values. While the American Enterprise Institute
estimates close to 70 percent of black children are now born
to single mothers, these people have enjoyed long marriages and
raised or are raising their children in stable homes with both
These modern heroes also give
back to their community. Cain, for example, an alumnus of the
historically black Morehouse College, now serves on the school's
board. Chenault serves on the board of CASA, a drug-use prevention
group. Carson started the Carson Scholars Fund, Inc. to help
Third-World schoolchildren stay academically competitive. Fudge
is involved with the Partnership for a Drug Free America and
the United Way.
Many high-profile black "leaders"
such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson seem to regard capitalism
as unfair to African-Americans. People such as Cain, Carson,
Chenault, and Fudge show the American Dream can work for anyone
with enough faith and determination.
They and others like them are
true sources of inspiration, and should be honored during Black
Virgil Beato is a former staff
assistant for the African-American leadership network Project
21. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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