The Power of Character [excerpts]

Power of Character FFT Sylvester Monroe, an award winning journalist and author, shared with Beccastone an essay he wrote that appeared in a collection titled, The Power of Character, edited by Michael Josephson and Wes Hanson.

When I was eight, I could never have imagined that I would be- come a journalist. I didn’t know any reporters or writers, and no one in the South Side Chicago tenement where we lived had ever aspired to being a journalist. But thanks to my mother, when the ambition did sprout, there were no obstacles either in my family or, more im- portant, in my mind. For though she never pushed me toward one career or another, she never pushed me away from any either.
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Indeed, after life and an unconditional love, my mother gave me two things that I have always cherished. The first was the capacity to dream, to see beyond the meager probabilities of life as a child of poverty and into the boundless realm of possibility that is the haven of all dreamers. The second was a deeply rooted conviction that being born black and poor is no excuse for not being the best person I can be.
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Black people must work twice as hard and be twice as good just to get the same opportunities as whites, [my mother] said. But she’d always temper that hard admonition with the encouraging note that if I did work hard and get the best education possible, I could do whatever I wanted in life or be anything I wanted to be. Of course she knew that the world wasn’t that open to a black boy (or girl) living in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes housing project in the 1960s. But she also understood that if my brother and five sisters and I were to have a chance of making it at all, we had to have something to reach for, something to hope for, Indeed, she had to give us a reason to get up every morning and run the gauntlet of gangs and violence that confronted us going to and from school every day.
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So, when I think back on that old recurring question, Why didn’t I turn out like so many of my childhood friends? the answer is really simple. I was blessed to have the kind of mother they didn’t.
It wasn’t that their mothers didn’t love them as much as mine loved me. It was that my mother taught me that while life is often not fair, the key to making the most of it is playing the very best game you can with the hand you’re dealt. My grandmother called it understanding the difference between a glass that’s half empty and one that’s half full. I call it the gift of character.