November 9, 2010: Proactive Presence – the effectiveness of change

Stephen R. Covey once said, “The personal power that comes from principle-centered living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable, proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviors, and actions of others or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people.”

A commanding quote of note I distinguished and valued back in 2003, while reading his powerhouse, world acclaimed, #1 bestselling, non-fiction blockbuster, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. When I think of highly effective people, not by chance do I think of author, public speaker and motivational sensation, Stephen Covey, who published this self-improvement phenomenon first in 1989, then again in 2004, and has sold more than 12 million copies in 33 languages and 75 countries throughout the world. When I think of highly effective people, I think of all the inspiring friends and colleagues in my circle who are revolutionary leaders’ of change – everyday -and are empowered and unwavering in making a difference in their own lives, their families, and in their communities at-large. I think of leaders like Malcolm, Martin, Marcus, and Mandela – all of whom were a resilient “presence” of their time and proactive by choice, to fervently induce the challenge of change. When I think of highly effective people, I think of the veterans of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s – that brought us to where we are today – and still we rise.

Historically, federal elections in the United States have taken place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This date was established by a law of 1845 for presidential elections; in 1875 for the House of Representatives and in 1914 for the Senate. Tuesday was the earliest and most practical day of the week for polling to occur in the nineteenth century because citizens would need time to travel for an entire day in order to cast their vote and did not wish to leave on Sunday, a day of worship for the great majority of them.

Historically, obtaining the right to vote for many has been an arduous and elongated journey. By the mid 1850’s, most economic barriers to voting had disappeared, however, by the Constitution not [then] addressing the suffrage issues more broadly, it fostered a long running battle over voting rights. This struggle lasted well into the twentieth century, and thus formed a stronger focal point for the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Though the exercise to vote has expanded from early voting in America in April 1607 to our present day of November 2010, and centuries much later, the battle for bureaucracy and the struggle for human freedom and civil rights continue to present challenging opportunities in many of our communities and abroad. Inopportunely, many of our inner city communities are shifting and separating, lacking the presence of many fathers, brothers and sons on the home front. As it relates to race and prison, 13 percent of all Black men in the U.S. have lost their electoral rights to vote; collectively, this includes ex-felons, inmates who are serving a felony sentence, felons on parole and felons disenfranchised. During the Reconstruction period, hundreds of thousands of Black men risk their lives and property to vote. Not by coincidence and by the end of that period, Blacks were removed from the voter registration polls and denied the right to vote.

No movement has illustrated the milestones of Black America and exemplified this point better than that of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. From 1776 when Abigail Adams asked the Continental Congress to support women’s rights to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787; from Citizenship limited to whites only in 1790 to the Abolition movement to end slavery by 1865; from the Women’s Suffrage Amendment that was introduced to Congress in 1878, but took a lengthy 42 years of courageous labor to irrevocably ratify in 1920, to the overturn of State laws denying the right to vote to Native-Americans in 1948; by 1966, more than 250,000 new Black voters in the South were registered to vote. And though from that time until now, much has been discovered, reformed, and revolutionized within our Nations democratic state – MUCH remains to be required.

I was not a part of the Freedom Movement of the 1960’s, but somehow I feel as though my enthusiasm was there. As a young woman and at the callow age of 18, [though conscious] I honestly was not aware of the widespread challenges that my ancestors faced, nor did I recognize my critical responsibility in having the right to vote. I was aware that I had a voice – a coherent and consequential one – but during that period of my young adulthood and for whatever sense of “inadequacy” that loomed over me, I did not feel as though my vote would make a difference, nor did I realize the power and importance of my OWN presence. By the mature age of 21, my presence became my power and my voice became my power of speech, and I felt the need to take on a more applied approach to politics. My very first experience of exercising my right to vote was showing up in November of 1992 for the 42nd Presidential Election of the United States. No doubt, that experience empowered me and changed every thought I ever imagined thereafter about exercising “my rights” to anything.

Today, our new generations of young people are making strides, overcoming barriers and taking giant leaps of faith. But many still have yet to discover their identity, their purpose, their voice. Now as a parent and citizen, it saddens my heart to see young folks not taking advantage of the right to receive a free education anywhere in the country or exercising the right to actually have an opinion – and vote in the federal and midterm elections. The democracy of our future greatly depends upon our youth, and they are the vehicles that will implement the equality we hope for, but will no longer be able to express.

Today, I am pleased that the National Youth Council (NYC) has taken a proactive role in the 2010 Elections. The President of NYC, Delroy Williams, stated that the council recognizes the importance of youth in the electoral process and has devised several strategies for getting youth to be fully involved and committed in the process of voting. The National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) also plays a pivotal role in ensuring the right to vote for youth. In addition to being affected by taxes, young people at large are affected by every other law that Americans live under. Teens pay an estimated $9.7 Billion dollars in sales taxes alone and 80% of high school students work at some point prior to graduation. Not surprisingly, youth feel alienated [just as I did] from politics and politicians. But, politicians will represent their interests if youth can vote – and at a younger age. The Senate Judiciary Committee believe that lowering the voting age to 16 for young Americans will include them in the process; it will provide them with a direct, constructive, and democratic channel for making their views felt and for giving them a responsible stake in the future of the nation. After all, the biggest election issues often directly affect the youth of the nation.

The first habit represented in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is the habit of being Proactive. Its’ synopsis is to take initiative in life by realizing your decisions (and how they align with life’s principles) are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life; taking responsibility for your choices and the subsequent consequences that follow. Proactive means preparing for or controlling an expected situation. Proactive people use their resourcefulness and initiative to find solutions rather than just reporting problems and waiting for others to solve them. Change starts from within, and highly effective people make the decision to improve their lives through the things they can influence rather than by simply reacting to external forces. We can choose to be proactive or reactive.

YOU are here. Be proactive. Take a stand. Use your voice. Share your story. Be an influence. Have a purpose regardless of your flight. Personal effectiveness is not unattainable. Being effective and being present in life requires showing up. Bottom line – you should vote because you CAN. I hope that we all showed up at the polls on Tuesday, November 2nd, with an objective to make a difference, regardless of our political preference, ethnicity, age or gender. One person – one community – one city at a time.

In the words of President Barack Obama, “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that your efforts don’t matter or that your voice doesn’t count. Don’t ever believe that you can’t make a difference. You have.”

Love for your Tuesday and your progressive consciousness.

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