“The mission of Morehouse College is to develop men with disciplined minds who will live lives of leadership and service.”
~ Excerpt, Morehouse College Mission Statement
I love my alma mater. Founded on Feb. 14, 1867, as a training ground for Baptist ministers, Morehouse College established a legacy that is known worldwide. Not only was its sixth and most influential president, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, the man responsible for enrolling Martin Luther King, Jr. at Morehouse, but he was also responsible for establishing what the world now knows as the “Morehouse Mystique.”
That mystique has become synonymous with the greatness that has come out of Morehouse College. Men like Martin Luther King, Jr.; Maynard Jackson; Walter Massey; Dr. Benjamin Mays; and last—but certainly not least—me.
Martin. Maynard. Massey. Mays… and me.
At first read, it may seem like a bunch of bragging. But if you dive deep into the words, you will see what it’s really all about.
Growing up on the east side of Buffalo, I was a shy and quiet kid who always did what was expected of him. I went to schools like City Honors and Hutch Tech, and got stellar grades, yet shied away from the spotlight. I just didn’t want to be noticed. Ever. So much so that I dreaded being called on in class to answer questions. Teachers knew I had the correct answers, but it always turned into a staring contest because there was no way I was talking in front of the rest of the class! I never wanted to let my light shine. And if you had known my grandmother, you’d consider that very uncharacteristic.
My grandmother, Arlene Robinson-Olden, was a woman who took great pride in our family’s history and made sure that we always knew where we came from. Dinner-table discussions were laced with history lessons and field trips to historic sites lasted year-round for me, my brother, and my sister.
You see, my grandmother’s great-grandfather, John Henry Stewart (born Robert Ross), was Harriet Tubman’s brother—and my grandmother never let us forget it.
I never wanted anyone to know, though. It wasn’t that I was ashamed; it’s impossible to be ashamed of that. I just never wanted to be perceived as a bragger or a liar (I could never decide which was worse). I thought I was protecting myself by keeping it to myself and I never said a word about it—until I got to Morehouse, that is.
Morehouse taught me what it meant to be me. Unabashed. Unbothered. Unashamed. Morehouse taught me that there was a crown being held above my head that I was obligated to grow tall enough to wear. Not for me, but for everyone who was to come after me.
Morehouse taught me that I was not special because everyone around me was a star. Instead, it was my duty to outshine myself. Not because I needed to be better than anyone else, but because I needed to constantly be better than myself.
Morehouse taught me that winning wasn’t beating the person next to me; it was combining our time, talents and treasures so that we both make it to where we need to be.
Morehouse—just like Grandma Arlene—taught me that it was my responsibility to myself, my family, and my community to fully embrace who I was as a person and share it with the world.
In all of this, I discovered that the shell I spent so much time trying to keep intact wasn’t protecting me at all. It was keeping me from being who I needed to be and preventing me from letting my light shine. So I broke it. I freed myself. Most importantly, I learned how—and why—it is my responsibility to let my legacy live on.
I encourage you all to do the same.