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Purdue University Black Cultural Center

29th Annual Award Banquet April 24, 2002

Renee Thomas, Director

The topic for my remarks tonight is "Keys to Success" I thought to assist me with tonight’s presentation would ask my daughter Lauren for support and encouragement. Mind you, Lauren is just over a year old and doesn’t have much of a vocabulary, but when I was talking with her about this program, she happened to have a set of keys in her hands. I thought to myself -- wow -- as young as she is, she already has the keys in her hands. I will use her set of keys to assist me with tonight’s presentation.

As you already know, keys are utilized to unlock doors and I believe the keys I share with you tonight can help unlock a successful future. There are five keys on my ring, each of the keys on the ring represent a "Know", that is K-N-O-W. The keys represent five areas of knows:

1. Know Your History

2. Know Who You Are

3. Know When and Where You Enter the Whole Race Enters With You

4. Know Your Passion and Purpose

5. Know You Have to Give Something Back


1. Know your History

We have to know from where we come. We have to crave knowledge about ourselves. It should be a never-ending search with our people to constantly seek out the truth about ourselves. We must pass that truth on to generations that follow. African Americans have a rich history that has only been partially told. New stories are being discovered. History should not keep you in the past; it should be joined with the present and future. We should learn lessons from history.

African American culture is a precious commodity and is worthy of study. For people who have been systematically excluded from the mainstream of society, it is especially important to remember and celebrate those who have made significant contributions. As a result of knowing our history, we can reclaim and create a heightened awareness about individuals, contributions and struggles that have made African American survival and progress possible. We all owe it to ourselves to experience the thrill of knowing about African American history makers.

As we learn about our past, we acquire the power to construct a better future. We must know that African Americans have a great tradition. We are the sons and daughters of great kings and queens. We come from a strong tradition of respect for family and the community where we live. We are more than cotton pickers, ditch diggers, and maids. We are scholars, philosophers, teachers, inventors, doctors, managers and scientists. African Americans are great people and we must keep holding our heads high because in our veins flows the courage of Harriett Tubman, the perseverance of Mary McLeod Bethune, the inspiration of Booker T. Washington, the vision of W. E. B. Dubois, the military genius of Hannibal and the unconquerable beauty of Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti. In our veins is the creativity of Paul Robeson, the bravery of Malcolm X and the hope of Whitney Young.

Know your history. Know that in your veins is the compassion of Martin Luther King Jr. the intellectual astuteness of Dr. George Washington Carver the business genius of Madame C. J. Walker.

The realities of history liberate us all from ignorance, intolerance and apathy. The Purdue Black Cultural Center fully understand the importance of key No. 1 Know Your History that is why we have sponsored programs such as the presentation by Kweisi Mfume, the National President of the NAACP, and founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History Dr. Margaret Burroughs. As a result of the BCC Film series, the Purdue community was afforded the opportunity to learn more about Black Dance in America and the historical role Alvin Ailey, Pearl Prumus and Katherine Dunham played in Black dance. The Black Voices of Inspiration spring concert provided an opportunity for the audience members to take a journey of African American music history. Members of BVOI performed a wide range of music also provided a narrative overview of traditional Negro Spirituals, the role of gospel music and how the sounds of Motown evolved. The BCC fully understands the importance of Key #1. Know your History!

Key No. 2: Know Who you Are

You can’t open a bank account, drive a car, or even get on an airplane now without showing valid ID. It is very difficult to get on the path of success and reach your full potential unless you first validate your identity by deciding who you are and where you want to go.

To know yourself is the first and most important step in the process of pursuing your dreams and goals. A key element of validating your own identity is to become secure enough in who you are to accept the influence of others on you. It is important for you to know who you are in total. This is of supreme importance because too many people are living their lives solely to please others. It seems many of us are more concerned what others think and feel about us than what we think and feel about ourselves. We bow easily to peer pressure and societal standards of what’s important and how to fit in, and we are loosing our identity in the process. We should focus on discovering what God has called us to do and doing it in such a way that no person living or yet to be born could duplicate its effect. It has nothing to do with how good we look on the outside. It does not matter how much money we make, what kind of clothes we wear, what type of car we drive or house we live in but as our elders say. "Its what you do with what you have". We must realize that we are not defined by what is on the outside of us but what is on the inside. Know who you are.

Key No. 3: Know when and where you enter the whole race enters with you

There is an old saying that goes "When and where I enter, the whole race enters with me" To put it in contemporary terms, as long as you’re Black, you have to represent. Anytime an African Americans is given an opportunity to showcase his or her abilities, it offers one more opportunity to make or break the chances for African Americans who attempt to come through the door behind you. There are simply no days when we can wipe the color off our skins and just be ourselves. It may not be fair and or make us feel good but that’s the reality.

I know that many of you have experienced being the only African American in your class at Purdue University and the burden this can place on you to "represent the entire race". We all need to consider the consequences of our actions. We also must bear responsibility for the consequences of our inaction. When we don’t stand up for the causes in which we believe, we must share the blame when things go awry. I am not saying that all people have to be role models. Each of us has to buy into the notion of being a race model. Lets all set the goal of being the best African Americans we can be. The race is bound to rise as a result.

Key No. 4: Know your passion and purpose

A passion for something does not come from your head. It comes from your heart. Passion gives life to vision. Your passion should be infectious. Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing , do it with all your might, put your soul into it. Be active, be energetic be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your objective. Sometimes you hear that people "stumbled into success" they got there by "blind luck". I don’t agree with this theory. People may come upon an opportunity that surprises them. Something might open up for them without any of their planning or doing. But the people who take those opportunities and make something of them are the ones who are successful.

And they are successful because they have a vision for what they can do, given that opportunity. No one wants to go to work without a plan. If you are going to build a house, you want an architectural design, a blueprint. If you are going to travel a distance by car, you want a reliable up to date map. Long-term goals require an ongoing vision of success balanced with the day-to-day details. True success means dedication to a mission and the discipline, grace and perseverance needed to live out that mission each and every day. Know your passion and purpose.

Key No. 5: Know you have to give something back

Our nation is crying out for good leaders, people who are compassionate, people who have integrity, people who can be role models for the young and not so young. Remember that to be a good leader one must first be willing to serve. You cannot start serving too early in your lives for service to others will enrich your own lives in many ways. Helping others to feel better about themselves will help you feel better about who you are. Serving others will give you identity and expression. Lifting others up will ensure that you never loose hope and will assist you in understanding how great are your possibilities.

The Black Cultural Center ensembles have really embraced this key. The Haraka Writers have given back to the community by serving as mentors for a group of young talented writers from the Chicago area. The Haraka Writers hosted these students for a weekend visit and conducted a creative writing workshop. The New Directional Players gave back to the Greater Lafayette community by participating in the Martin Luther King program at the Tippecanoe County Library. The Black Cultural Center library has also given back by developing the Hanna Community Center after-school reading program in which Purdue students read to children and quiz them on their reading comprehension.

As I close this evening, I want to review the Keys to Success. As I read each of them, I would like for you to repeat it out loud.

1. Know Your History

2. Know Who You Are

3. Know When and Where You Enter the Whole Race Enters With You

4. Know Your Passion and Purpose

5. Know You Have to Give Something Back

On each of your tables is a key chain. I hope that when you use this chain you will recall the BCC’s five keys to success. Thank you.