“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” —Madam C.J. Walker.

The history of African Americans in this nation is a history replete with examples of people doing exactly what Madame Walker describes. From the founding of the republic, African Americans have made an opportunity for themselves even during some very difficult and trying times. Individuals such as James Forten come to mind; he was an abolitionist and businessman in Philadelphia in the first part of the 1800s. His company was built around the sailing industry, and he employed an integrated group of employees by design. Forten wanted to demonstrate how blacks and whites could work together as equal contributors in his company and in society.

James Forten (1766–1842)
Daniel Hale Williams (1856–1931)

In addition to Mr. Forten, Daniel Hale Williams made his way as one of the first surgeons to perform open-heart surgery in 1893, thus obliterating the notion of black inferiority in the field of medicine. Other African Americans such as Willa Brown and Chief Anderson, took to the skies and helped teach those who would later become members of the famed Tuskegee Airmen how to fly and by extension how to dream. Pioneers like Charles Drew, who made the use of blood banks a vital part of saving lives, and Septima Clark, who used education to emancipate African Americans by establishing citizenship schools in the deep south, both made advancements to their race and to the nation. All of them expressed a profound belief in the only country that they have ever known, the United States of America. They demonstrated unwavering loyalty to this nation and the ideals that it represents.

This loyalty has also been exhibited on the field of battle many times by soldiers like Milton Olive III who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for making the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam in 1965 at the age of 18. He represented a long line of African Americans who have both served and died for their country dating back to the American Revolution which featured the contributions of The First Rhode Island Regiment, as well as Phyllis Wheatley. More than 5,000 African Americans served in the Revolutionary War, and it is only fitting that the American story includes African Americans from the nascent stages, for the history of America is the history of African Americans. As we observe this Black History Month, let us focus on our shared history as a way to connect us and not as a way to divide us. We are one nation with many stories and every story makes us who we are – the United States of America.

Milton Olive III (1946-1965)

Chief DEI Officer DeWayne Street

Leander ISD Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion DeWayne Street contributed this article. For more information on the district’s DEI initiatives, please visit www.leanderisd.org/equitydiversityinclusion/