In his latest book, "Diversity: Leaders Not Labels," renowned businessman, educator and author Stedman Graham discusses how in the global economy of the 21st century, diversity has become a defining quality of business.
More than ever before, maintaining individuality while accepting others' uniqueness is key to personal and professional success.
By profiling people who have done this, Graham teaches readers how to grow to their full potential.
"Diversity: Leaders Not Labels" is essential for anyone who hopes to excel in all aspects of life.
The Lessons of Whitesboro
First, I must tell you about an instrument of change in my own life, a man who was central to my transition from race-based thinking, a man whom I never met.
As I grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, racism still infected the black communities of our country like a plague. It was more conspicuous in the South, but it lingered in the North as well, and New Jersey was no exception.
Whitesboro, New Jersey, was much like other black towns that sprang up across America in response to antiblack violence and segregation. It was also my hometown, my sanctuary, as I grew up. In areas surrounding our town, blacks were still being openly disrespected, shut out of jobs, and treated like second-class citizens. A kid growing up in Whitesboro felt a little more insulated from this day-to-day despair. But the story of this unique town's founder, George Henry White, dates back far before my time there. White, in fact, was born a full century before me. But his legacy lives on in my heart and the hearts of the thousands who have dwelled in Whitesboro over generations.
White was a visionary man who devoted his adult life to securing the most basic rights for the underrepresented. He understood the power of leadership and education in overcoming the label of "second-class citizen." Born in Bladen County, North Carolina, in 1852, he spent much of his childhood in servitude, working as a slave in the humid forests of the region to harvest the precious pine gum used in the making of turpentine and many other common products. He toiled from sunrise to sunset for the benefit of wealthy slave-owning families in a youth he called a "struggle for bread and very little butter."
White was thirteen years old when slavery ended. He knew that extreme poverty was inevitable for most former slaves, so he rededicated his life to helping the legions of newly freed yet disenfranchised men and women gain access to the only thing he knew could give them hope: education. He worked his way through a teaching school and then Howard University in Washington, D.C., later earning a law degree. He got elected to a seat in North Carolina's House of Representatives, where he fervidly petitioned for increased funding of African American schools. He would serve as district attorney in New Bern, North Carolina, and later as state senator.
In 1894, White took an even bolder step, running for a seat in the U.S. Congress. He lost but was not deterred and clawed his way back to capture the post two years later. A brilliant orator, White made impassioned, classic speeches about the prejudices and brutality plaguing African Americans in the South. White, as it turns out, was the last former slave to serve in Congress, and by 1898 was the only African American remaining in the House of Representatives.