▼No. 15: Dr. Freeman Hrabowski III▼
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There are lots of environments these days—from the home to online communities—where no matter the veneer, it's still quite obvious most people do not know what authenticity, excellence and very high standards of achievement look like. And it's not that it can be a nauseating experience. It always is. After all, if you don't know that in practice, how can you respect those who have beaten but still contend with stupendous odds against them on a daily basis? That's why I strongly urge you to make this blog easier to fully understand by devoting requisite time—approximately 53minutes—at the end of your business day, week day, night time or whenever convenient. Then return here, click the Listen Live button above first, and really listen.
That's what my family, loved ones, meticulous and professionally-minded intellectually curious blog followers (for whom I chiefly write and design these things) will be doing. And unless you devour the material that way, you will have understood nothing. This is not a show. Not everything found on a Social Network has to be for show or about ideology. The content is detailed on several different levels because it's designed to be actionable, portable and of/for strategic long-term use.
As you listen intently, you will probably come to conclusion that Dr. Hrabowski is an influential figure and mentor to me because he walks his talk and exemplifies Martin Luther King Jnr's affirmation: “Intelligence plus character - that is the true goal of education”. In other words, to have a college degree or claim to be educated without knowing how to check unwarranted prejudice and communicate respectfully with others is a sign of bad, poor or failed education.
This transformative innovative educator named among Time's 100 Most Influential, buried himself not just in hard work as he speaks about a pathway to excellence that adds something positive to the human experience. The only pathway that matters, as far as I'm concerned. And in the process, proved true the challenging Baconian maxim: “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds”.
Excellence & Educational Innovation on the March
A commuter college is not your typical university experience. Often small and not well regarded partly due to its small endowment and faculty, commuter schools are for primarily for the cost-conscious, for convenience, and act as transitional institutions where it's commonplace to hear students speak of enrolling only to “transfer to a better college at some point”. Most students live off campus and therefore drive or 'commute' only to leave almost promptly after their classes or on-campus engagements. Because of this, a commuter school campus is usually a ghost town by 7PM and certainly on weekends.
But all that, apart from being a predominantly White school, was pretty much what the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (U.M.B.C.) which is on the outskirts of Baltimore was, when Dr. Hrabowski became President in 1992. However, Dr. Hrabowski understood from the onset that it's naïve if not hypocritical to pay lip service to the fact that Some Need More Help to Succeed in College and yet do nothing about it. And so his growth mindset (remember that blog?) found perfect synergy with great partners for progress in the name philanthropist couple Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, who were looking to change the negative narrative and make a difference helping Black students fighting to overcome and beat the odds stacked against their higher education dreams, a fact bigots and ignoramuses alike prefer to reject. The Meyerhoff Scholarship Program initially began “with generous support from Robert and Jane Meyerhoff to provide financial assistance, mentoring, advising, and research experience to African American male undergraduate students committed to obtaining Ph.D. degrees in math, science, and engineering.” That vision of enabling access and success to the disadvantaged was eventually extended to all students.
Another testament of Dr. Hrabowski's innovative educational approach was documented by a New York Times report in 2007 entitled: Goal No. 1: Good Science. Goal No. 1: Diversity. based on an interview with another innovative educator faculty member Dr. Michael F. Summers. “Fifteen of the 32 researchers in Dr. Summers’s biochemistry lab, including a postdoctoral student and 3 Ph.D. candidates, are black. In the halls of American science, such representation is rare.” Is it any wonder then that this former commuter school is now a prestigious intellectual and practical education powerhouse?
Not only is U.M.B.C. tied with Yale University at #4 in Best Undergraduate Teaching National Universities (in America) but importantly, the university is highly regarded for doing more than it's fair share in graduating highly qualified scientists, engineers and mathematicians in an otherwise dwindling economy short of precisely those skill sets. Dr. Hrabowski is inspiring me at this moment in history because he is focused on solutions.
Success In Spite of the Odds (Begins at Home)
We're battle hardened typically invisible poor folks who've had it rough with countless scars to prove it since I can remember. That's is why I don't take life, humanities or blogging lessons from spoiled brats with time on their hands. But that precisely was why recently, I scolded a family member for nauseating me with evidence of a lack of successful parenting strategy.
Because my father taught us the importance of hard work, I wasn't amused when a loved one went on during a Skype conversation about a roomy basement for his kids in their new house. “Brand new everything” from washer and dryer to a 60-Inch 1080p 600 Hz Plasma HDTV upstairs, he proudly announced to me they had “just purchased”. I was annoyed because I realized at the moment that I with no kids was more aware of the prognosis for his four children than he and his wife were.
There's a reason Dr. Hrabowski's two bestsellers are great tools for raising kids. Surely, my little niece deserves a good start if she's to grow up an independent and emotionally stable high achiever who is well able to think critically, communicate effectively, possess and demonstrate what I call Essential Broad Background Knowledge while simultaneously honing “portable” or transferable critical success skills.
My response was swift, unambiguous and uncompromising.
It's not what you “purchase”. It's how well YOU are preparing your kids to NEVER:
① be poor (like us) and/or
② have a police or criminal record.
That's what matters to me. After all, you have 3 boys.
The foregoing notwithstanding, I already blogged the 'why'. Coincidentally, around the same period I witnessed a lot of cretinous commentary and inanity online about underachieving Blacks crying “racism” who deserve their time in jail and/or whatever harsh sentences they get/got. Yet ignorance is a choice, as I always say. And one of the unbearable and worst tragedies even in our Information Age is how little people claiming to be "well-educated" actually know about Justice and inversely but necessarily, Injustice.
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Experience has taught me most people who blab that way; even shamelessly referring to the blogger using bigots' favorite pejoratives (after the N-word) like: “angry Black man”, cannot sustain a 2-minute unrehearsed presentation (if you challenged them) that details positive, life-changing things both students and game changers like Cincinnati's Taft Information Technology High School principal Anthony Smith have been up to, let alone Dr. Hrabowski above. Few care to know of such things. And unsurprisingly, they're unable to connect the dots when it matters most.
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Ralph Ellison already captured all that when he wrote in his masterpiece Invisible Man: “It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves...I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers...[T]o whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me? And wait until I reveal how truly irresponsible I am. Responsibility rests upon recognition, and recognition is a form of agreement.” Sure, I have my objections to some of the foregoing.
Insisting on forced invisibility Hrabowski's being spat on and thrown into jail for 5 days by the racist sheriff was not the only insult and odds he had to overcome. No one called on or spoke to him during an entire Summer semester after transferring to an all White school. If today, personal computers and the Internet helps keep one sane socially speaking, imagine a time when there was no such escape whatsoever. Nevertheless, where Dr. Hrabowski begins to make a whole of sense to me is his upbringing's welcomed actionable departure, if not antedote to, Ellison's nameless Black man's bleak reality of hellish intolerance and cultural incompetence. Listen to General Colin Powell.
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That tradition and focus on problem-solving; of deciding what you're go to be in the face of hardship rather than embracing the mantra of the victim, is like General Powell, lived out by Freeman Hrabowski too.
Born Freeman Alphonsa Hrabowski III on August 13 1950 in racist Birmingham, Alabama to Maggie Hrabowski (a Math and English teacher) and Freeman Hrabowski trudged along that arduous pathway to excellence. Sadly, his name makes searching for him online from within China without a VPN a frustrating experience. But “Hibernation”, said Ralph Ellison, “is a covert preparation for a more overt action”, and so we know he didn't get here by lazying around playing computer games and watching 60-Inch 1080p 600 Hz Plasma HDTV all day. No.
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Long before he changed the world by arriving at UMBC with the full force of his values determined to systematically convert the sleepy commuter school by educating and graduating future leaders and problem-solvers rather than fence straddlers, pendulum swingers, "NO" people, Dr. Hrabowski managed to graduate from university at 19, and finish both his Masters and Ph.D by age 24. Equally impressively CBS notes, “Hrabowski started college at age 15 having passed 9th grade at age 12. That is what excellence in achievement looks like!
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Why is that a big deal and worthy of emulation both by me and my nephews or like-minded readers? Henry Wad Beecher said it. But Freeman Hrabowski walked Beecher's talk: “Hold yourself responsible to a high standard than anyone else expects of you”. Good, responsible citizenry that goes on to figure out, and then execute and amplify cogent plans for giving back to higher learning and society begins this way. Just like the ex-Google guy I featured in another blog.
This is what inspires me. These are the ideals of authenticity I continue to cling to wherever I find myself. Ideals whose benefits are universal and inclusive in scope, and positively transformative. Go do your part for your family, community, country or world.
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Current Top 20 Most Influential in my Development
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