Saturday, April 18, 2009

Education: A Grandfather's Desire

In March 2009, My family and I celebrated the one year anniversary of the passing of my grandfather in Baltimore, MD. Close family and friends from Baltimore, MD and Atlanta, GA attended the ceremony and I was priviliged to be given a chance to speak during the anniversary. Here is the speech I made during the service.

Education, the act or process of acquiring knowledge developing the powers of reasoning and judgment and generally preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life. An education is what helps you build your life, your values, your principals, your career and your future. An education opens minds and open doors and forces you to think out of the box instead of being stuck inside of it. Let me take you back to the days of slavery, when the African-American race suffered some of the most significant losses physically, emotionally and mentally. Before the Atlantic Slave Trade, the slave trade best known by society today, there was the African slave trade. Africans enslaved Africans but in a more peaceful manner. The enslavement was temporary and contractual and most Africans did it so that they could pay a debt back or avoid famine. You were guaranteed freedom and your children were guaranteed an education. They would learn how to read and write and their was no discrimination between the slave's kids and the slave owner's kids they were all treated as equals. But that all changed when the Atlantic slave trade took place, all of the freedoms and rights of the African people were taken away, which included the right to learn how to read and write. African Americans never were able to regain the empowerment of an education until the Reconstruction era in the late 1800's and Blacks did not reach a high literacy rate until 1900. Imagine not being able to read or to write, not being able to express yourself, not being able read the insights of other intellectuals and share your viewpoints with others as well. That's what African Americans experienced during all those years of enslavement. Despite those facts and the way civilization played out, our black people in the US have not taken advantage of the privileges of an education. Studies show that while 75 percent of white students graduate from high school only 50 percent of black students graduate. This country is not the only country suffering through this problem. Our homeland of Kenya has seen decreasing levels of educated students. In Kenya, 85 percent of the children residing there attend primary school, 24 percent of the children attend secondary school, and then it trickles down to only 2 percent that attend higher institutions. In Kenya though the low percentages of students attending school could be caused by the fact that there are many low income families in the outskirts of Nairobi that can't pay for school and the fact that you have to pay for school in the first place. But in a country like the US that provides free education from elementary school through college and offers opportunities to win scholarships, there is absolutely no excuse to not be able to attain an education. People we need to do something about this crisis. One of the reasons this economic disaster exists is because people were not educated enough when being given loans by banks, they only thought inside the box not out of it. With an education you can upgrade your position in the world and your ability to develop a better future for you and your family. Getting an education is the hope and change that you can believe in and has helped so many people to become successful like President Obama, Madam Secretary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and the list can go on and on. The advantages that an education gives you are unlike any other. Just ask Kimani Ng'ang'a, an 84 year old Mau Mau veteran who attended the first grade for the first time in order to know how much money he should receive in compensation for his job. People might have thought he was dreaming for attending school at such an old age but he was able to upgrade his position in the world. Nobody is too young, or too old to upgrade your education. So to all of my Black people, White people, Hispanics, Kenyans and everyone in between I encourage you today that you are not too young or too old to get an education there should be absolutely nothing that can stop you. People have fought, cried and given up their lives for education, it is very selfish to not take advantage of the opportunities that you have now. Dr. Karangu always believed that education was the way to go. He worked hard with his economics students and tried to help them as best as he could and he touched many people's lives. One day I was with Irungu and another friend of mine playing basketball at my house. My friend's father came to pick him up and Irungu's dad came to pick him up as well. My friend's father looked at Guka and said “Oh my God is it you professor, how have you been, I don't know if you realize this but you don't know how much you have changed my life, you were one of the best teachers I ever had, I just want to say thank you” Guka had the biggest smile on his face, it was just one of the many people he touched with how he felt about the value of education. Guka was among a group of Kenyan scholars who were some of the most elite students in the country and were deemed as future leaders of Kenya. This was a program that was started by John F. Kennedy to broaden the value of education around the world. Guka was offered the opportunity to get an education in the US, in a time in the 1960's when there was a peak in racial discrimination. But he persevered and was able to change so many lives and bring so many people to the US to achieve the same dreams that he achieved. I leave today with a quote from an educated English poet by the name of Joseph Addison.

"Education is a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate, no despotism can enslave. At home, a friend; abroad, an introduction; in solitude, a solace; and in society, an ornament. It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives at once grace and government to genius. Without it, what is man? A splendid slave, a reasoning savage."

In honor of Guka's memory let us strive to be leaders, role models and advocates of education to upgrade the positions that we have in this world. Parents, be more supportive of your kids, encourage them to upgrade, if they get B's encourage them to get A's, if they get A-'s encourage them to get A+'s, be more positive with your kids but also emphasize on areas that need improvement. To all my age mates and young people obey your parents. God has placed them to be in that position for a purpose, they are there to help you not hurt you so embrace them with love and make them proud of you.

Thank You.

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