At a recent meeting of the local NAACP, the meeting room stamped pictures of black historical figures on its walls in honor of Black History Month at the Progressive Baptist Church on Houston Street. The legends, frozen in moments of activism, were now silently stapled to poster board. Many of the attendees were older, veteran women, concerned for their children’s futures. The children had mostly moved from the area in search of jobs. Their absence was as silent as the pictures.

At a recent meeting of the local NAACP, the meeting room stamped pictures of black historical figures on its walls in honor of Black History Month at the Progressive Baptist Church on Houston Street. The legends, frozen in moments of activism, were now silently stapled to poster board. Many of the attendees were older, veteran women, concerned for their children’s futures. The children had mostly moved from the area in search of jobs. Their absence was as silent as the pictures.


We discussed young black American struggles. Dr. J.P. McMillen, the president of Grayson College, cited from cell phone, said the percentage of graduates from high school going into college is starting to become equal among both black and white students. However the graduation rate from college is three higher for white students then black students. We shook our heads and wondered what was in store for young black professionals.


Creating success among the youthful population means that educated jobs need to become a reality. In 2013, unemployment for black workers was at 13.4 percent, twice that of white workers, according to the Pew research. There is no data as to why black workers experience more unemployment.


Al Shaprton, in a recent civil rights meeting with President Obama, remarked, almost sarcastically, that African-Americans had full employment during slavery. He went on to say it is not enough to have a job, but a job that pays enough for young families to survive. However, considering the economic times, that is a hard achievement for anyone.


Let’s consider the life of Frederick Douglass. One mistress began instructing him on the alphabet but stopped after a serious warning from the master who said it would "unfit him to be a slave. … It would make him discontented and unhappy." Douglass, undeterred, had to teach himself to read and write. He wrote about the pain of education in his narrative: "It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out."


By learning, Douglass understood that slavery and education were incompatible. If a slave could understand the world for himself, he would no longer trust his master’s authority; he would not believe his injustice was deserved. Douglass writes, "to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason."


Though it can be painful to learn the truth, it compels the eyes to stay open. You can rarely unlearn an injustice. Black History Month observes injustice, so we can learn true liberty. In the times of Douglass, eyes were closed to the evil of slavery. Once open, people could not sit in compliance any longer. "Education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free," Douglass said.


He freed himself from mental slavery through self-education and then, because of his intelligence, eventually walked free soil. This aspiration in all of us may be the key to lift ourselves out of poverty, black and white. When we learn, we free ourselves from our ignorance, which can be the biggest barrier to our success. With education we create the opportunities we seek.


Micaela Hoops is an obituary writer for the Herald Democrat. She also compiles the daily history column, "A look through the area’s past." Email her at mhoops@heralddemocrat.com