Looking for a Hero


Looking for a Hero

A year ago on May 30, 2020 my Fairfax District neighborhood exploded with protests against police brutality and pro-BLM movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death. These demonstrations led to riots and destruction. There was looting of local shops and businesses. There were broken windows. There were cars burning on the corners of my street and beyond. On May 31, 2020, the shattered glass didn’t obscure what was most visible to the naked eye. And that is all the neighbors coming out with brooms and rags to clean the damage of the graffiti, devastation and the broken human spirit. 

The happiest individuals are those who do the most to make others useful and happy.

A year later: May 30, 2021. It is hard to imagine that just a year ago my street was burning and there were about a 100 or more police officers in riot gear striving to stop the destruction, to save lives, and to put out the fires of the burning cars. It is May gray in Los Angeles. It is Memorial Day Weekend Sunday. It is quiet. The birds are chirping. And through their music, I remember and reflect. Not to blame or find fault, but to honor and to grow; to remember those who served our country and the ones who, with their very lives, showed us how to live; to do a “kintsugi” of a year past. 

“Kintsugi,” aka golden joinery, is a XV century Japanese art form and a technique to mend broken ceramics with gold-dusted lacquer. Kintsugi doesn’t hide the breakage, nor the flaws. Instead, it honors and celebrates them in reverence for the troubled history of that particular object. Subsequently, the mended piece becomes more valuable than it was in its new state. 

The golden seams make the surface much more valuable. Have you been able to look at your heart this way? All the hurts, all the pains, and all the mistakes are not only a blueprint for life lived, but also an invitation to vulnerability that equals courage. 

Thus, a year after the Fairfax District, Los Angeles, CA riots, and the months that ensued, I am gluing the pieces together, repenting, reflecting and realizing that I am missing a hero. A hero that is missing in the avalanche of information that changes daily, due to social media often bringing gossip vs facts, and due to fear that comes with political correctness. 

Nevertheless, I have found him. Remember when you were little kid and you read either fairy tales or comics and you had a hero? Perhaps if you are older, your hero was the Shield or Zorro. If you are a bit younger, it might been Superman. Or your hero was a scientist, such as Albert Einstein or Marie Sklodowska Curie. Or a composer, as in Bach or Chopin. Or as a writer, Tolstoy or Hemingway. The list is endless. 

Have you ever heard of a wonderful children’s series of books ‘Who is who?’ Who is Galileo? Who is Einstein? Who is Martin Luther King? Who is Lincoln? And so on. It’s a great series of books for kids and adults alike. 

For me, after reading most amazing autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” the question becomes ‘Who is Booker T. Washington?’ He’s a man who, over hundred years after his death, is my hero. 

It is the man who was born a slave, and then emancipated in 1863, who chose self-reliance through education. When Booker T. Washington was a little boy, he thought paradise was reading books and studying. “I had a feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be the same as getting into paradise,” he said. After working in the salt mines of West Virginia, he travelled about 500 miles, most of it by walking, to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, founded in 1868 by General Samuel Armstrong. 

In 1881, after Booker T. Washington graduated from Hampton and worked there as an administrator, General Armstrong recommended him to lead the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. When Booker arrived at Tuskegee, he expected a campus. Instead, he found a chicken coop and a barn and 30 students eager to learn, to study Greek and Latin. What Mr. Washington conveyed to his students that was more important than Greek and Latin was practical industrial education. So through that education, they could become indispensable to their fellow men, be they black or white. 

He said: “I learned what education was expected to do for an individual. Before going there, I had a good deal of the then rather prevalent idea among our people that to secure an education meant to have a good, easy time, free from all necessity for manual labor. 

At Hampton, I not only learned that it was not a disgrace to labor, but learned to love labor, not alone for its financial value, but for labor’s own sake and for the independence and self-reliance which the ability to do something which the world wants done brings. At that institution, I got my first taste of what it meant to live a life of unselfishness, my first knowledge of the fact that the happiest individuals are those who do the most to make others useful and happy.” 

Subsequently, 90 percent of the buildings at Tuskegee were built by the students, brick by brick. Physical labor became the pride of their education. And prepared them for their daily lives outside the school. Mr. Washington says in “Up from Slavery,” that upon emancipation, many blacks were not ready for freedom. The most sought-after professions were to be a teacher or a preacher. Yes, they wanted to escape physical labor. Yet, the way to freedom was through learning the basics, including finding joy in the physical labor. As well as learning etiquette, manners, the way to dress, the way to eat, and the way to pray. 

Booker T. Washington didn’t dispute the evils of slavery. Yet, he believed that the only way to freedom and success was through empowerment of self via practical industrial education and hard work. 

“Nothing ever comes to me, that is worth having, except as the result of hard work.” Therefore, when occupied with work and striving to help others, one had no time for hate. “I would permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”

“Up from Slavery” was written by Booker T. Washington in 1901. Over a hundred years later, especially after this past year of civil unrest, racial divisiveness and the pandemic, this little book is a gift that keeps on giving. And its author, through his humility and service to us all, is a hero and a teacher. He is the living breathing excellence, because he did do “a common thing in an uncommon way.” And has invited us with his very life “to raise, above the clouds of ignorance, narrowness, and selfishness.” 

In a “kintsugi” of life, we overcome the obstacles and learn from heroes such as Booker T. Washington. Because, as he said, “Character, not circumstances, make the person.” Therefore, we move forward, stronger, kinder and gentler. To create a better world for us all. 

Thank you, Mr. Booker T. Washington for the life you lived and the example you left us to emulate. Thank you for being the hero I so desperately needed to find. 

Astrid Ambroziak is Creative Director of Parking Today Media and Editor of Parknews.biz. She can be reached at Astrid@Parkingtoday.com

Article contributed by:
Astrid Ambroziak
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