Right now I’m thinking about Booker T. Washington. You know the guy. He’s the one who founded Tuskegee Institute (now University) and who debated with W.E.B. DuBois (not W.E.B. DuBose as of my students stated knowingly…and wrong). Booker T. Washington believed that Black people needed to learn a trade or a skill to be successful in this country. On the other hand, W.E.B. DuBois believed that Black people needed an intellectual education. I could make a case for both points-of-view and we can argue over who’s wrong and right, but that’s not the point I would like to make today. Anyway, regardless of their ideologies, they both believed that hard work bred success.
But right now, I’m thinking about Booker T. Washington. I’m thinking about him because he went to Hampton Agricultural and Normal Institute, which is what my alma mater was once called. Guess what his admissions exam was? Not filling out an application or writing an essay. He had to – get this – sweep the floor. Booker T. Washington not only swept the floor, but he did such an immaculate job, it earned him a place in the school. Be honest. How many people do you know would have blown off sweeping a floor even for college admission? How many people do you know who would have swept it but done just a half-job and then get mad when they didn’t receive entrance? Or they would have balked at the task, saying it is beneath them? I’m raising my own hand right now because I’m thinking of a few people, some of whom I have encountered long ago and some even very recently who would have just completely blown that opportunity.
Today most of us don’t have to sweep the floor, although there are some of us that still do and that’s ok. If you take pride in it, good work is good work. Let’s be real though, someone swept the floor for us. They thought they were paving the way. They thought they were making our lives a little easier. But I have been wondering if we value our accomplishments more when we have to “sweep the floor” ourselves? Take a job for instance, even in this economy people are still throwing those away without a second thought. I mean common sense tells you “to come to work” or “don’t mouth off to the boss”. However people do and have the nerve to be surprised when they’re filing for unemployment. What about education? We live in a place where we go to free public school and some of us squander that opportunity. My favorite is the bartering for the “A” that wasn’t even closely deserved. And the point is what? Grades or learning how to properly complete a task? What if the skill is needed later in life and that person got the “A” and none of the “know how,” how does that help.
My grandparents, both sets were floor sweepers, literally. They had to clean up behind someone so that their children could receive a decent education and a decent life in general. Last night, I heard presentations from both young people and people who have been on this earth a little longer who value education, cherish a community, and think that it’s no sweat at all to help out a fellow human being. I consider them to be floor sweepers as well. They work hard and they cherish all life has to offer. They won’t casually toss aside their opportunities. For those who think behind one chance is another chance, I say hand those people a broom.