No matter the community you identify with, giving back to it is crucial to the advancement of not only individuals but the group as a whole.
Just take time to ponder where African Americans would be without the civil rights movement, in which people advocated for justice for all rather than only for themselves. Many times, the sacrifices they made were not for the present but for future generations. “I may not get there with you,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the day before his death. “But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
I believe history has taught us the imperative of remembering those who will come after us and the necessity of committing, even if only on a rare occasion, to improving their quality of life.
I grew up in foster care. Given the negative beliefs many people have about the foster care system, and the negative stereotypes often associated with it, it was very difficult to share my years of experience as a foster child. So I shied away from any involvement that would reveal that part of my life. A year ago, however, I decided to step out. At first, it was my focus on own well-being, and my need to overcome the shame I felt about my upbringing, that guided my decision to go public. But I quickly realized I had been wasting the opportunity to look out for the children who would walk a similar path. I became determined to speak out whenever I could, for their sake, because I knew how difficult it had been for me to speak out when I was younger.
Sharing my childhood experiences brought me the chance to participate in the third annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day in Washington, D.C., this past May. Although the event was a great opportunity to meet members of Congress and walk in the shoes of our own House representatives, all of the participants were there for a purpose we believed was greater than gaining personal exposure or moving toward career goals. The members of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth realized that the voices of foster youth resounded louder and affected legislators more than did their own voices. Therefore, it was our objective to share our views on the issues surrounding the foster care system and to suggest changes.
By being courageous and confident enough to speak as and on behalf of foster youth, we have become national advocates for those coming after us, and we are fulfilling what I believe is our cultural responsibility to ensure the success of others.
These recent experiences have taught me the power that public advocacy holds to transform my own life and others’. As members of the National Society of Black Engineers, each of us is likewise called. We must continue to transform the culture that shapes our communities and nurtures our youth, by being bold advocates for participation of blacks in engineering and other STEM fields. We must speak out, to increase the number.