By Dr. Dwayne Buckingham
Messages are forms of communication that are transmitted to individuals either in writing, in speeches or in behavior with the intent of informing or advising them to take action. Messages can either be uplifting or destructive. As an individual who was raised in the 70s, I heard messages that were empowering, heart-felt, educational and uplifting. During the 70s and 80s era, I like most African Americans, felt proud to be Black. Through the messages I heard and read, I was challenged to embrace my heritage, examine the moral fabric of my character and strive to advance myself and my community.
Over the course of my childhood and educational journey, I have read hundreds of messages, but the six messages that profoundly shaped my mind-set and behavior as I ventured into adulthood are listed below.
1) Thurgood Marshall’s “Equality” speech inspired me to Fight for civil rights.
2) Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Comprise” speech inspired me to Advocate for myself and others.
3) Mary McLeod Bethune’s, “What Does American Democracy Mean to Me?” speech inspired me to Value education.
4) Madame C.J. Walker’s “I Am A Woman Who Came from the Cotton Fields of the South” speech inspired me to Invest.
5) Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech inspired me to Dream.
6) Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” speech inspired me to Excel.
As I reflect on my childhood experience and educational journey, I kneel to God daily and thank Him. I thank Him because my moral and ethical foundation was built on messages that were uplifting and inspiring. Throughout history, African American’s prosperity and growth has been linked to the messages that we embrace. Unfortunately, we are now living in times, where the messages are not so inspiring and uplifting.
Here are six messages that prevent African Americans from achieving emotional and financial stability.
1. Get Yours and Don’t Worry About Others. In this day and age, many Black people place more emphasis on meeting their personal needs than ever before in history. The “Village” concept is a thing of the past as more individuals are doing what is best for them. This is definitely not in line with our ancestors’ legacy of helping others. If our ancestors were self-centered, selfish, and lacked consideration for others, the Civil Rights Movement would have never occurred. Individuals like Rosa Parks and Dr. King did what was unpopular and dangerous because they understood the value of doing what is right instead of what is popular. They also understood that emotional prosperity is achieved by helping others. Commitment to yourself will cause you to be by yourself.
2. Experience Is The Best Teacher. Many individuals in the Black community are quick to say, “You cannot tell me anything unless you have gone through what I have been through”. We have a tendency to place a great deal of emphasis on learning through experience. Whether intentionally or not, we often encourage individuals to experience some form of drama or hardship so that they can have creditable testimonies. For most, our experiences lay the foundation for the majority of our learning. While experience is a great learning method, we must be careful not to minimize the importance of learning through study or education. Through my personal experiences, I have learned to recognize my mistakes and through my educational experiences, I have learned to prevent them. Simply put, experience in my opinion is an intervention and education is prevention. In the famous words of Vernon Law, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives you the test first, the lesson afterwards”. With this in mind, I highly recommend that you do not solely rely on experience or education alone. Balance your life by incorporating both so that you can grow in a healthy manner.
3. Get a Good Job and Work Hard For Others. This message definitely hinders progression in the Black community because many of us are taught to do well in school so that we can get good jobs. We are also taught to value hard work. Personally, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with securing a good job and working hard, but I am mindful that working hard for others will not propel my lifestyle or my loved-ones’ lifestyles to the next level. In my short-time on this earth, I have never met anyone who has acquired wealth by solely working hard for others. In order to build an empire, it is paramount that we seek opportunities to generate some form of passive income. Although Madame C.J. Walker was orphaned, abused and uneducated, she understood that the acquisition of wealth was acquired by working for self. She began her own cosmetic company and later became the First African-American female Millionaire. If you desire to have financial stability in the twenty-first century, you must continue to work hard, but also strive to become financially independent.
4. Psychological Problems Can Be Resolved By Praying and Attending Church. As a devoted Christian, I truly believe in the power of prayer and believe that God is capable of healing the wounded and sick. However, I also believe that church should not be the only place where Blacks seek assistance for psychological distress. On a daily basis, I interact with a large percentage of individuals who are clinically depressed and suffering from anxiety. Many of them could benefit from psychotherapy and psychotropic medication, but are often encouraged to just pray. As an African-American, I understand the financial, social and culture challenges associated with accessing counseling services. However, when confronted with medical problems or sickness many of us do whatever is needed to seek and receive medical care. We do not place our physical health in the hands of our pastor or the church. So after you finish praying get some professional help. If you desire to achieve emotional stability, you must learn to nurture your mind, just like you nurture your body and soul. As the old saying goes, “The Mind is A Terrible Thing to Waste”.
5. Look Good Even If You Do Not Feel Good. This message encourages individuals to purchase material items (clothes, shoes, cars, homes, etc.) in order to cover up their emotional or psychological distress. It also encourages individuals to internalize their problems. As a community of people, we have mastered the art of faking it until we make it. However, by now most of us should have learned that the possession of expensive clothes, shoes or cars will not resolve our internal turmoil or psychological distress. I grew up hearing individuals say, “Looks can kill you”. I used to believe that this was not true, but after years of observing African Americans invest more money into their outwardly appearance than they do in their emotional and physical well-being, I am starting to believe that looks can kill.
6. Support Black Businesses, but Make Sure You Get The Hook-up. Some of us will only patronize each other as long as we are getting the hook-up: “something free or a discount“. I am often told that I have to offer something free or some kind of discount in order to gain the support of African Americans. While this is disturbing, it is somewhat true. How can African American business owners grow our businesses if we are constantly being asked to give away products or perform services for free. I do not have a problem with giving because I believe that Givers Gain and God has blessed me to be able to give. However, I do have a problem with people always looking for the hook-up. Please understand that getting the “hook-up” does not always benefit you because you get what you pay for. Also, please understand that for profit businesses exist to make money and to grow. If we as a people are to achieve financial stability, we must support each other and be willing to pay fair market price for services and products we receive.
As you continue to celebrate Black History Month, please remember that messages have power and often influence behavior. If you desire to achieve emotional and financial stability, please be careful of the kinds of messages you listen to and embrace. Disregard messages that demean your character, reinforce negative stereotypes and stagnate the Black community. You cannot always control what you hear or influence the kinds of messages that are delivered, but you can control how you behave after hearing them. Remember that your belief system is a composite of messages that you have embraced. With this in mind, I strongly recommend that you disregard messages that inhibit your ability to achieve emotional and financial stability. Listen to the right messages and I guarantee you that your life will change for the better.
Dr. Dwayne L. Buckingham is a renowned psychotherapist, motivational speaker, author and activist who provides individual and marital therapy to military soldiers and their families assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He is also the founder and Chief Executive Officer of R.E.A.L. Horizons Consulting Service, LLC located in Silver Spring, Maryland. To learn more about Dr. Dwayne Buckingham visit his website at www.DrBuckingham.com. You can follow Dr. Buckingham on Twitter @DrDBuckingham.