When I was younger I once heard the analogy that life, in America especially, is like a foot race. Some races and ethnicities, specifically African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities, were held at the start line for several hundred years while others were allowed a head start. At the time that I heard this, the analogy seemed valid, as there is no denying our history or the prevalence of dearth and disparity at present. But as I started getting older, I began to critically evaluate what this idea meant for me, for my family, for my community, for my people. If this is a race, what does the journey to the finish line mean?
What are we chasing and to where are we running? For some, the answer is success and happiness likely characterized by material possessions to some degree. But for me, those things are not end goals, they’re positions. I am wealthy and I am successful, not by possession of material things, or by reaching an arbitrary criterion, but by cultivation of rarities that are always in high demand (genuineness, wisdom, compassion, loyalty, humbleness to name a few). My currency is good character, and it does not fluctuate with changes in market prices. My happiness and success are in sharing that wealth with others.
Who are my rivals or whom am I running against? I was finished competing with the world when I finished high school, an environment where competition amongst peers and others is fostered. Where adolescents are graded and ranked in the context of others. As an adult you find that the greatest competition to performance and achievement is self, and sometimes you can be your own greatest supporter, critic, friend, and enemy. Although there are clear hurdles, barriers, and challenges in life, we live in a time where if we can’t jump over them, run through them, or knock them down on our own, we call on family, friends, and community to help.
The point being, that although we all share common space, run in the same place or on the same plane, the race is a matter of perspective and our race is not a burden. Let’s set the pace for change, not forgetting the past, but not allowing it to stand in our way either. We cannot change the past, but neither should we lean on events from the past to project our future. Let’s move forward with strength and courage, not for material riches, but to be enriched by our experiences and to share them with others. Lets be better as people so that we can build stronger families, better communities, and a better society.
Alicia Anderson is a Leader Fellow with Become, Inc. She is currently a student in the Applied Behavior Analysis program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology pursuing a M.S. Her goal is to have a positive social impact in marginalized and underserved communities, optimizing the potential of communities, and helping to create social justice and equality of opportunity.