Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and civil rights activist from 1900 until she died in 1955. She was born in 1875 as a child (one out of 17 children) to former slaves in South Carolina where she worked in cotton fields growing up. She always believed that education was the key to her success and “racial advancement” so she walked miles every day to attend an all-black school. After her hard work, she received a scholarship to Scotia Seminary School for girls in North Carolina. She went on to attend Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago. With her strong believes about education, she founded Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Florida in 1904. She was and educator and school principle. Once the school grew large enough, it merged with a boys school and became known as Bethune-Cookman College. Eventually, she went on to found the National Council of Negro Women. She worked closely with President Hoover and Roosevelt as a minority activist for African-Americans. After her passing, she was even inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for her amazing and extensive work as a civil rights activist for the greater African-American community.
An initial problem that Mary McLeod Bethune faced was in her transition from childhood to adolescence. It was ultimately up to her to put in the effort and attend school. Because her family had 17 children, was poor, and was not raised with high ideals of education; she was pretty much on her own to make herself successful. She had to walk miles by herself to and from school every day. Along with picking cotton in the fields and doing family chores, she needed to study and do homework. Her self-discipline paid off and her straight A grades got her a scholarship to attend college. Her mindset of “racial advancement” and the thought of bettering herself and ultimately her race and community is what drove her determination to find a way to put her through school.
In her time as an educator, she faced another issue of recruiting students to attend her all-girls school. She had to find the funds to run the school and get families on board with her educational program. This was difficult for her, because most of the girl’s parents were uneducated, and education was not valued in their household. She had to convince people that education was the key to “racial advancement.” She used this slogan to appeal to families and hoped that the promise of a better future for their children would drive them to enroll their girls in school. She really started a large spread of the education as a valued entity in the African-American population.
Liz Murray is an amazing woman who grew up in negative conditions, she did an interview in 2010 and told her story of how she grew up with drug-addict parents and went on to attend and graduate Harvard. At the age of 15, her family became homeless. She and her sister used to split a tube of toothpaste for meals and were forced to go to school looking dirty and smelly. She was bullied so much, that she decided to drop out. She explained that her parents spent all of their welfare money on heroin and cocaine. Her mother and father both died of AIDS at this time from the needles she used to inject drugs. Her sister lived in shelters and on friend’s couches, where Liz was sleeping on park benches and Subway trains. After seeing her mother and father waste their lives away, she decided at the age of 17, she reached out to a former teacher in the hopes of turning her life around. She was able to complete 4 years of high school in only 2. Her teacher saw great potential and took her to visit Harvard. She received a scholarship, attended and ultimately graduated. Liz now works as a motivational speaker and author about resisting drugs and pushing through hard times.
One hardship that Liz had to overcome was getting out of the mindset that her parent’s drug abuse was normal and acceptable. Because she had grown up with it her whole life, it was difficult for her to see that there was any other way to life. Instead of falling into the same habits of her parents, she learned a big lesson from their deaths that their way of living didn’t necessarily have to be her way of living. I think this is a very important step that homeless students have to take. They must realize that the reason why they got into their bad situation doesn’t mean that it has to be their situation forever. They shouldn’t accept poverty, drugs, or homelessness as an answer or acceptable lifestyle.
Another hardship she had to overcome was making her transition from high school to Harvard. There was not a lot of information about this transition in the article that was written about her, and I’m sure she explains it in detail in her book, but Liz must have overcome huge financial obstacles to attend an Ivy League school. Her grades must have been impeccable, her application outstanding, and her motivation enduring. Along with this, it must have been very hard to leave her sister behind while she attended school. I’m sure her sister was jealous and maybe even resentful of her motivation and her success. Liz’s decision to leave and continue her education may have caused her to lose the only family she had left. However, when it came down to it, bettering herself was the most important thing she could have done. Her parents dragged her down with her, and she could no longer afford to be dragged down even further by her sister’s lack of motivation.
These two women are very strong-minded. It is difficult to take a leap of faith and try to succeed at something when you feel like all odds are against you, and you have extremely limited resources. In both cases, they had to dissociate themselves from their family’s values and lifestyle. At some point, they had to determine that their parent’s way of living was not their way of living, and it was unacceptable to them. Another theme that occurred in both stories was the aftermath. Once both women graduated college, they went on to motivate and help many other people in their endeavors. They didn’t graduate and become doctors or lawyers (occupations that would ensure individual success,) but they pursued careers in which they were able to spread awareness and make a change in the world to help better the stigma against poverty, homelessness, and drug-addiction as a black hole where dreams go to die.