The releasing of shackles, the breaking of glass ceilings, and the crossing of boundaries come through education. It is through education where one can receive liberation. Today, we celebrate what would have been the 165th birthday of one of the most incredible educators in history, Booker Taliaferro Washington or, as we know him, Booker T. Washington.

When you think about the story of Booker T. Washington, you become inspired by his story of quitting work to pursue schooling. Despite the need for money to help support his family, his mother gave her blessing for him to make the 200-plus mile journey to attend Hampton Institute, known today as Hampton University. He had to pay for school by working as a janitor.

Booker T. Washington believed this sacrifice would pay off in the long run. He committed himself to the idea that he could raise himself and his people to equality in America through education. With this notion, Booker T. Washington became a teacher. 

When I think about the landscape of our country and how important it is, now more than ever, we must ensure the next generation of Black children are properly educated. Here are some lessons we can take from Booker T. Washington.

Celebrate the journey not just the destination

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”

Quoted from his autobiography “Up from Slavery,” Washington highlighted how our journey is more important than the destination.

When I think about my journey through education, I am appreciative more of my journey and not the fact that I have risen to the ranks of being a principal. Our children need to see that they can overcome the obstacles in their life to reach their liberation. The inspiration of Booker T. Washington’s story is not just the man he became but the fact he got there after being born into slavery and working his way through school.

We need our own schools

“Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than to be in bad company.”

He founded Tuskegee Institute as a leading college for Black people. Today, many Black leaders have a similar opportunity to create more Black schools to educate Black children.

Booker T. Washington is one of the best examples of how important it is for there to be spaces created by Black people for Black people. Even in 2021, 140 years after the founding of Tuskegee, the education system in this country is still not designed for our Black children. The push for more independently developed-and-run Black schools is essential. It is vital for Black leaders who lead schools of Black children to design them with the mindset of Booker T. Washington. Up through education, our children and our community can level the field.

Embrace teaching Black children

“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up.”

Booker T. Washington believed that teachers who educated Black people would be the light to a brighter future of economic progress. Even today, in many places where Blacks are struggling to break the shackles of generational poverty and the glass ceiling of economic gains, the shackles and ceiling will break if they receive a quality education.

Booker T. Washington’s ideas were the foundations that helped the Black community to move from slavery toward integration. If we apply similar ideas today when we educate Black children, we can move away from miseducation to liberating education.

An original version of this ran on Indy Ed.


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