Fifty years ago this month, Thurgood Marshall won the Supreme Court case that history would forever remember as Brown vs. the Board of Education. That landmark case declared Arkansas’ "separate but equal" laws unconstitutional. What most people don’t know is that when the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts one of them ruled Brown, "does not require integration. It merely forbids discrimination." It would be thirteen years before the Supreme Court addressed the issue again. The lesson? Sitting around waiting for things to change might just take a little longer than you thought. Especially if you’re black. This message is for the men and women of color in this industry, many of whom are meeting at the NAMIC breakfast this morning in New Orleans. I urge each of you to take a good hard look at yourself. What I want you to ask yourself is, are you ready to take that next step up the ladder of professional development? And if not, what are you going to do about it? Look, if there’s one thing that 250 years of discrimination has taught us, it’s that the rules of business are set by those in power. And if we’re going to win, we’re going to win playing their game by their rules. One of the harsh realities of capitalism is that it is dog eat dog. Handouts, if they exist at all, amount to table scraps. So while groups like NAMIC help us shape issues and crystalize thoughts, the ultimate responsibility for our success lies within. As individuals we must determine our own destiny. I believe in the power of the group to make things happen. But I also know that the more blacks stand together with our hands out, asking for a seat at the table, the easier it is for the white guys in power to look beyond us an individuals. The easier it is for them to consider us, "them." On his HBO special this month, Chris Rock says going to both white and black schools as a kid the one absolute he learned was this: that a black kid with a C average might someday run a Burger King, but a white kid with a C average can become president of the United States. So what do you do about that? I don’t know. But you might start by not settling for "good enough." You might stop waiting for someone to take an interest in you and start managing your own career. You might stop thinking your education is over, simply because you’re no longer in school. And you might consider aiming for greatness. Trust me, no matter what your skin color, greatness translates. It reads. Greatness is the universal language of American society. You think the Dodgers would have messed with Jackie Robinson if he wasn’t a great baseball player? You think Marshall would have become a Chief Justice if his knowledge of the law wasn’t greater than the next hundred white candidates? And do you think Colin Powell would be Secretary of State if he wasn’t a great statesman, or Richard Parsons would be running Time Warner if he wasn’t a great leader and businessman? Believe me, I know it’s not that simple. But as I look around me at the National Show I see so few faces that look like mine, and I have to wonder after so many years of "diversity initiatives" why that is. I also know that one definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results. If standing shoulder-to-shoulder isn’t cutting it, maybe becoming armies-of-one will. Look, we will always be brothers and sisters, but we have our own names, our own careers and our own lives. Symonds says it’s time we take responsibility for them. Curtis Symonds can be reached at curtissymonds@yahoo.com.

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