By John Hope Bryant, February 27, 2000
Before the Congregation of Galilee Baptist Church, in South Central Los Angeles. On the Occasion of Black History Month, 2000.
The full text of my prepared remarks (I no longer write or read speeches, so this is a unique document from our more recent archives) follows below, but this was a speech I gave, at the request of my loving father, Mr. Johnie W. Smith, businessman and one of my early role models, at his church and on the ocassion of Black History Month in the year 2000. I hope you enjoy it.
First and foremost, I would like to thank Rev. Page, the congregation here at Galilee Baptist Church, and of course, my father Deacon Johnie Will Smith, for inviting me to speak with you here, on the occasion of Black History Month, 2000.
Rainbows, …After Storms
The enemy of best is not bad. The enemy of best, is good.
Now, I know that the first time you hear the title of my presentation, it will probably not make much sense to you ~ but, give it some time, ….and, the benefit of an open mind. As you already know, God, doesn’t think, like we do!
The fact is, I could have come before you today and just spoke about our triumphs and hard fought for successes as a people, …and I will.
I could have come and just rattled off some familiar names of 20th Century African-American inspiration and hope; names such as Dr. Charles Drew, De Bois, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, General Colin Powell, Actor Sidney Poitier, Supreme Court Justice and distinguished attorney Thurgood Marshall, and of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ..And I will talk of them, for in their own unique way, these pioneers have blazed individual and collective paths of opportunity, that today affords each us enormous freedoms in America; and abroad.
I could have come before you today, and spoke about my own God given successes, using me and them as some sort of “model” for our young people’s future hope, self-esteem and personal development; but I won’t. True, I have been blessed, but my life is not without it’s failing; or cause for introspection, and some level of critical review.
Which leads me directly to the important issue, and issues, I will talk about.
Rainbows …after storms.
Getting out of your own way.
Loving others, and our fellow man, as God must surely love us; in spite of our drama, if not more than our positive qualities….
Showing love, real love, often when you feel like being loving the least.
Stepping over mess, but never in it.
It’s understanding that the successful navigation through life’s problems, hurts and transgressions, is not so much an issue of “forgive and forget,” as it is “forgive even though you cannot forget.” Hate only hurts the hating heart.
Understanding, and truly appreciating, that real success in life is “going from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm (for life).”
That life is 10% what life does to you, and 90% how you choose to respond to it…
That the glass of life is always at the halfway mark – but that, with God’s help and assistance, you have the absolute power, within your own mind, heart and spirit, to decide whether the glass is “half full, or half empty.” Either way, it’s the same glass. The only thing that changed, was you.
It’s understanding that in life, you have to go through it, to get to it. No pain, no gain. No easy paths to freedom. No shortcuts to success. No free lunches in life – and if it is free, it’s probably stale.
A perfect mathematics and spiritual equation of “cause and effect.” Actions and reactions.
It’s understanding that in life, and in love, there is only work. To quote noted psychologist and writer Dr. C. Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled; a Spiritual Journey,” a book which has been on the New York Best Seller list for the last 20 years, he writes in the first line, of the first paragraph, of the first page, of the first chapter of this wise and insightful book, “…Love is work.”
Love is work? Why that statement? Why say that, when there are 200 incredible additional pages of wisdom, insight and knowledge to absorb within your mind, body and spirit? Why?
Because if you are not willing to accept this first non-negotiable fact of your spiritual and physical life, that Love is Work, then you shouldn’t bother reading the rest of the book. It can’t help you, because you are not yet ready, to help yourself!
I have gone further with this statement, suggesting that “love is work, non-love is laziness, and anti-love is human evil.”
You support this church, because you love the Lord.
You support its ministry, because you love its teaching.
You go to work everyday, even when you don’t feel life it, because you either love what you do, or you love how what you do, affords you the opportunity to help and support those you love!
You study the Bible, books and even other people, because you love yourself, and you know that God cannot do much good with a fool.
You do the work of sometimes tolerating your friends, your family, and even your children, at times when part of you honestly wants to choke them to living death, ..because you love them too.
Getting up at three in the morning and going to help your friend who’s car is stranded 30 miles away, is indeed work; the work of love. Love, at work.
It’s stepping over mess, but never in it, because we have increasingly come to understand that racism, as an example, is not going away anytime soon. Racism is like rain. It’s either falling someplace, or gathering. So you might as well find an umbrella, in a color you like, and just start walking through it! Over mess, but never in it….
But in spite of all of our deficiencies, limitations and mostly self-imposed limitations, African-Americans today are a wondrous, incredible, creative, ingenious and loving people. ~ Rainbows, after storms.
And this leads me to my second point, inspired by a new and wonderful friend, Ms. Senait Ashenafi, who lent me this special quote about life ~
“…The enemy of best is not bad. The enemy of best is “good.”
Since the beginning of our exodus from the Continent of Africa in the early 1600’s, a place I have had the fortune to visit on two separate occasions, to the end of American industrialized slavery 200 years later, and within the past 40 years, legalized segregation here in America, African-Americans in spite of the enormous personal cost, came together and fought for what was best for our people span>, and for America – freedom. Yet today, many of us often end up simply settling for “good” – a moderately inspired and engaged life, a weekly paycheck, a rented apartment, a leased Cadillac, BMW or Mercedes we really cannot afford, …and an unwritten promise not to ask too many hard questions from the world we live in.
No. The enemy of best is not bad. The enemy of best is good.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressman John Lewis and countless others risked their very lives to give us the unalienable right to vote. Yet many of us today feel that our vote won’t make a difference, or worse, that we don’t count; and faced with this anemic and apathetic view of life, never exercise this most precious right, to champion over unrightous might. Instead, we often sit back and complain about the many things that are not right in our lives, instead of doing something constructive to change it.
The enemy of best is not bad. The enemy of best is good.
Goaded into believing that our young Black men are some sort of endangered species in America (with one in three young Black men either in Prison, on probation or on parole today), many a Black mother has decided to love their sons, and to raise their daughters. The crippling result is a self-manifesting destiny of too many real ladies, but not enough real men.
The enemy of best is not bad. The enemy of best is good.
Thinking that the world of business, finance, economics and national politics are available only to white men, Black men and women often never even try. Instead, at times it feels like we have an entire population of 32 million Black folks, trying desperately to be one of 200 successful athletes, or 300 or so working entertainers. We can do this yes, but we can also do so much more. Let’s not just dance on the stage, let’s own the theater! Let’s not just sing the songs, let’s own the publishing rights too!
The enemy of best is not bad. The enemy of best is good.
As Dr. Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Traveled, “…in the interest of realism, we must remember that all blessings are potential curses, and that both consciousness and competence are inextricably interwoven with pain.” He continues, “…perhaps the best measure of a person’s greatness, is the capacity for suffering.”
If I am honest with you today, I will tell you that before I see my accomplishments, I see my pain; I see my personal anguish; I see all of the lonely decisions I had to make - decisions that few agreed with at the time.
If I am honest with you today, I will tell you that before I see my accomplishments, I see my glaring insecurities. Yes, the ones that tried to make me, and then keep me, hostage to fear, “what if,” and circumstance.
If I am honest with you today, I will tell you the frustration and uncertainty I felt, leading up to every worthwhile accomplishment.
If I am honest with you today, I will also tell you about the many that doubted me - out loud, to others, and to my face - and questioned if I could accomplish anything at all.
As that famous saying goes, “success has a 1000 fathers, and failure is a bastard son.”
If I am honest with you today, I will tell you about the many intimate experiences and long term relationships I have had with failure, …before I ever had so much as a date with success.
If I am honest with you today. I will tell you how at times I have doubted myself. How on occasion, I still do.
But in spite of the anguish, and through the anguish, …still, I rise!
Why do all this work? Why be so penetratingly …honest? Why is growth so important? …Why anguish?
Its called …love. And I can’t get to the best of it, without being vulnerable to the worst of it.
I can’t expect to be intimate with you here today, …without being intimate and vulnerable to you, today. To get into your spiritual house, I must be willing to let you into mine.
The thing that sustains me, in my passionate pursuit of love, and a life worth living, …is my faith.
And “faith is what you do, when you don’t have all the facts!”
Dr. King had a deep and abiding faith. A faith so strong, that it gave him the strength to embrace the flame, even when his fears made him fear it. And like the Phoenix, emerging from the flames, Dr. King’s strength grew stronger after each experience, and his faith, more abiding - because it became his guiding light, when all that was left was darkness.
Sure, like all of us, there were times that Dr. King must have looked for the easy, comfortable way out of the struggle, …and the anguish.
But it was not to be found.
He discovered quickly that there are no easy ways to freedom; no short cuts to growth; no free lunch If it looked too good to be true, ….it probably was.
Dr. King understood that you can’t get something, and risk nothing.
…No pain, no gain.
I have come to respect and appreciate the flame.
And yes, on occasion I have gotten burned.
But, everytime I learn and I grow; and everytime, …my character is stronger because of the experience.
I have redefined failure in my life - I have decided that “failure is not to fall, but to aim low.”
I have redefined success in my life - I have decided that “success, is going from failure to failure, without loss of enthusiasm.”
Like the Phoenix that dives into the flames only to emerge stronger - win, loose or draw - I draw strength from the flame. ….and still I rise.
But I was not always built like this. Years ago, someone helped to put together the pieces.
I realize as well that even with all I do, I am simply running down a trail, blazed by those that came before me. Pioneers like Dr. King. Pioneers, like my mother and my father.
Let me tell you the story of a little boy from, Compton, California, and South Central Los Angeles, who at an early age, had fire engine red hair, and a mother who didn’t want him to conform.
And so, as if I needed another disabling social liability, …she decided to dress me funny. I don’t mean funny as in fun loving, …I mean funny as in “mean.”
You see, while everyone else wore “look alike” khaki clothes, and other popular clothes of the day, my mother dressed me in suits.
But not any suit you see, …these suits were three piece, purple, crush velvet jobs, with ruffle shirts, and big, big, BIG… bow ties. May I remind you - this, …is Compton.
It would have been different if these suits were Georgio Armani, or Calvin Klein even; but when you opened the lapel it said “Designs by Nita.” My mothers name… is Juanita Smith.
I was picked upon unmercifically, and as a result I was forced to become my own person; my own best friend and confidant. I didn’t hav e the comfort of popularity, or fitting in.
I had to endure the anguish of finding my own way through these difficult years. And in the process, …I found myself.
It was through the anguish, and the pain, that I became …an individual.
And then there is my loving father, Johnie W. Smith, who owned his own concrete business but never finished high school in the south, where he grew up.
He never told me he loved me when I was growing up, and I held this against him for years; but I only recently realized that our relationship shouldn’t be defined by the things he didn’t give me, or simply wasn’t able to, but the wonderful things that he did.
You see, when I was 10 years old, I started my first business, The Neighborhood Candyhouse; and I realize now that it was because my father owned his own business, and met a payroll every week, that it never occurred to me that I couldn’t!
Yes, my dad anguished for me.
By the time I was a teenager, I was involved in the entertainment industry. I didn’t respect the art form, I just wanted to be wealthy, and to be a star. Worse even, I began to think that I was …better than other people.
Not only was I not anguishing, but my actions created an environment of pain and anguish for anyone who was unlucky enough to come into contact with me.
If good selfishness is when you benefit, and everyone else benefits more, and bad selfishness is when you benefit, and everyone else pays a price for it, …this was definitely a shining example, of bad selfishness.
Needless to say, success didn’t last. One moment I was driving a leased Mercedes Benz, and living in a rented Malibu beachhouse, and the next I was… homeless.
This is where I first become consciously aware of the powerful benefits ….of anguish; for I was face to face with my own unavoidable limitations as a human being, concerned only with myself.
Yes, it is true, pain causes change.
My pastor, Dr. Cecil Murray, is correct; everyday is a resurrection.
It was at this time that I reconstituted my life.
I decided that a life without purpose, was a life not worth living.
I discovered that in order for me to live fully, and in order to go to the next level, I would have to begin struggling with things.
I would have to anguish over important issues, and wrestle with important things.
I would have to live for something larger, and more important than myself.
…And I would have to turn my life over to …Him.
That wasn’t so hard - He couldn’t possibly do a worst job of managing my life, than I had!
Most importantly, I decided that God didn’t make dirt, and that “there was a difference between being broke, and being poor.” Being broke was a temporary, economic situation, but being poor was a disabling frame of mind.
This was the foundation that I was to build the house of my life.
The following years brought more success, and more failures, but now I looked at them differently.
I realized that it wasn’t what people called you, it was what you answered to, that was important.
I realized that I wasn’t a human being, having a spiritual experience, I was a spiritual being, …having a human experience.
From that day forward, I assumed total and complete responsibility for everything that happened in and to my life.
In the words of Dr. King, I realized that “injustice anywhere, was injustice everywhere.”
I began to see that we were not ships traveling to different destinations - our fates are indeed tied together.
I began… to anguish, with a purpose.
Several years later, after growing a finance company from zero to $24 million in annual business, I thought I had the world finally figured out.
I thought that I had done all the anguishing that was necessary …in my life. …Someone’s else’s turn. …Someone else’s problem.
But then, on April 29, 1992, injustice, dressed like police officers, turned my life upside down …again.
It is true; Rodney King is no model citizen, and he is definitely not my role model, nor the role model for Black America.
Rodney King is a convicted bad guy, who probably broke the law on that eventful night.
But breaking the law should land you in jail, under the jail if you like; but not in the hospital. Particularly when the only time you raised your arm, was to protect yourself from a blow.
No, no one deserved that whip’en, Not Rodney King. Not anyone.
And so, it was time to anguish, and then, I knew, a time for action.
I didn’t wait for a convenient time or space.
I didn’t wait to be drafted.
I didn’t duck the heat of the very real flames, whipping about my head.
…I didn’t wait for someone to bring me the torch - I went to the streets - I met the torch, I grabbed it, and I decided that my only choice, was to make a difference.
How can I ask you what you have done, if I have done nothing. If you are not part of the solution, you are definitely part of the problem!
The great and empowering vision for Operation HOPE, Inc. was born on that painful and destructive day.
I didn’t just wake up one day, and like magic, it happened.
…I wake up everyday, and make it happen.
…And that’s …the magic!
Yes, as my pastor Dr. Murray told me, “everyday… is a resurrection.”
Today, Operation HOPE, Inc. is America’s first non-profit investment banking organization, wholly committed to the social and economic revitalization of our inner-city, urban and under-served communities.
Today, Operation HOPE, Inc., in partnership 60 financial institutions, …..
But, nothing good comes easy. You have got to do the work.
It is because of the anguish, …that the dream of Operation HOPE, Inc. …is real for us all.
And, I am proud to say, we are all better served, because Operation HOPE, Inc. is here.
Every now and then, we must give ourselves a “reality check”…
Rising crime rates negatively effect ones sense of safety - for yourself, and those you care about.
Rearing, values and principals effect the choices that we make.
If I don’t love me, I can’t love you.
If I don’t have respect or regard or value for my life, I can’t respect, regard or value yours.
Education, or the lack of it, effects the productivity of our larger society, and even the hiring options of the company or organization you work with.
Poverty and unemployment rates effect and increase your individual tax burden.
Riots and civil unrest, …negatively effect the social and economic fabric of a community.
Racial tension effects the soul, and makes us all weaker.
The young black kid, harassing an elderly lady at 48th and Western, that you see on your way to meet me, indirectly and negatively effects the way majority America sees me.
In order to help me, I must help him.
Similarly, the Klansman, marching just months ago in downtown Huntington Beach, indirectly and negatively effects the way minority America, and our inte rnational neighbors and trading partners alike ...sees you.
…Our fates are all tied together!
(This is me and my dad, Johnie W. Smith, owner of Johnie Cement Work, in his 88th year of life on this earth. Still as passionately engaged in "life" as ever. Honored to be his son, and to call him my father)