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Everyday heroes help us knock down barriers

– As we approach the end of Black History Month, I find myself reflecting upon a cultural landscape and personal reality that simply cannot be properly captured in a mere 28-day period each year.

However, I do believe that this month (during which this nation acknowledges the growing pains, sacrifices and strides made with respect to a race of people which happens to be my own) provides an opportunity to examine key issues that may fall outside of one’s natural comfort zone.

Moreover, I believe that we should not stop at the examination stage, but instead move beyond the rhetoric and do our best to act in a manner consistent with the principles of equality that shatter glass ceilings, break through racial barriers and embrace inclusion and diversity in a real way.

We can essentially talk about positive change or actually be the change that we envision for ourselves, our children and future generations.

There are national and international leaders and well-known historical figures who hold or have held key positions and have served important roles pertaining to creating and/or enhancing opportunities for African-Americans.

To those individuals, I say, “Thank you.”

However, there are also those “everyday heroes” whose names will likely never appear in our children’s textbooks or in any national publication, but whose respective roles are just as important because it truly does take a village. To those individuals, I say, “Thank you.”

My proverbial village was comprised of several people of various races who understood some of the post-playing-days challenges I would face in a legal profession and business community that do not always include many individuals who look like me.

That same village of “everyday heroes” encouraged me to be equipped, confident and persistent in the face of adversity and to stand firm on my belief that every experience, whether positive or negative, should serve as a learning experience upon which one can grow. Yes, thick skin is sometimes required.

I stand on the shoulders of all those who came before me who were committed to creating avenues of opportunity for black people that have included even the highest office of the United States. No one ever said that those avenues would not sport an occasional pothole or two.

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to listen to the riveting stories that my mother shared with me of her upbringing in the South and her transition to Fort Wayne that ultimately led to her successful career as an educator in the heart of this city.

If she could endure and overcome much of the adversity of her time, I can do the same now and so can others who are inspired and dedicated in that regard.

Thank you, Mom, for being one of my “everyday heroes” and for instilling in me that no one ever rises to low expectations.

Now that the celebrated, 28-day period has again prompted this community and our country as a whole to examine key issues on race relations and reflect upon the sacrifices and contributions of many individuals with respect to civil rights and equality for African-Americans, the bigger challenge is to transform those examinations and reflections into positive, results-based action for the remaining 10 months of this year and beyond.

Simply stated, the progress must continue. As such, who’s got next beyond the 28 days?

Tiffany L. Gooden, an attorney and founding partner at Hall & Gooden LLP law firm in Fort Wayne, is the president of the Fort Wayne Sports Corp. She is a former Indiana Miss Basketball, National High School Player of the Year, Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Big Ten champion who also played basketball professionally. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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