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The Art of Growing Roses from Concrete

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that…though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”

The above quote is taken Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance.” It echoes a sentiment that runs deep in the American ethos.

You perhaps heard it communicated as “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

I’m not quite sure where Emerson, an abolitionist, stood on the question of what becomes of the man whose given plot of ground is made barren and kept sterile by the practices and policies of the society in which he lives.

I suspect Emerson would say adverse governmental and social challenges are beside the point; that you still have to play the hand you are dealt.

I would agree.

That doesn’t mean acquiescing to racism.

Indeed, part of playing the hand you’re dealt as an African American or a person of color requires you to exert a lot of energy fighting for the equality that the state is obligated to extend you under the law. It means toiling incessantly for equal access to education, health, economic opportunities, etc.

But while such battles are necessary, we should guard against an overreliance on the political process. It is slow, and its gains are often shallow and reversible in communities of color.

At the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce 2021 Game Changers Business Conference Expo this week, for example, several panelists detailed the Covid virus’s disproportionate impact on communities of color.

We have to understand that the roots to all of this come down to racism and until we change, and we change this process and understand how race plays a part in this, we are really not going to have the change we are looking for.

Dr. Matilde Castiel, Worcester Commissioner of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Matilde Castiel, Worcester Commissioner of Health and Human Services, said inadequate health care, housing, and job insecurity limited many residents’ ability to oppose the virus. These residents couldn’t social-distance and work from home as others could, for example.

Communities of color are also lagging in getting vaccinated, she said.



She noted that the disproportionately negative impact Covid had on communities of color “isn’t new,” that these communities have traditionally been disproportionately affected by the ravages of other diseases.

“We have to understand that the roots to all of this come down to racism and until we change, and we change this process and understand how race plays a part in this, we are really not going to have the change we are looking for,” she said.

We know from previous disruptions to learning, such as the Spanish Flu 100 years ago and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that these disruptions of learning tend to be durable and stay with students for the rest of their lives.

Ryan Flynn, MBAE

Ryan Flynn, a director with the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, said Gateway communities like Worcester kept their students on remote learning for most of the year. In contrast, majority-white districts required their student to have time in the classroom, engaging in rigorous, in-person, education, he said.


View the MBAE Continuity of Learning in the 2020-21 School Year report here.


“We know from previous disruptions to learning, such as the Spanish flu 100 years ago and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that these disruptions of learning tend to be durable and stay with students for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Flynn said.

“And you can see that in terms of future economic opportunity for earning, years after the student has left the k-12 system.”

Mr. Flynn believes there is now a recognition of the “seriousness of the situation we are in, and there is a broader understanding that something needs to happen.”

He noted that the state and the feds are making a large amount of funding available” to support recovery and strategic practices that help chip away at inequities.”

Corporate America, too, has pledged some $35 billion to narrow the racial wealth and opportunity gap, I might add.

Two other panelists Tuesday, Fred Taylor, president of the local NAACP, and Stephanie Williams, chief diversity officer for the city, spoke about their respective roles in helping to chip away at these inequities.

And the Chamber noted that its theme this year, “Planning for an Equitable Future: Economy, Justice, and Education,” was organized to “in response to the racial reckoning and calls for change taking place across our country….”

These are all welcome developments, but we cannot ignore the significant, alarming, and relentless efforts by the Republican Party to hardened inequities.

That’s the fickleness of politics. What we gain today, we could lose tomorrow.

But as we toil and wait for the politics to sought itself out, our self-reliance will stand us in good stead, which brings me back to Emerson.

The power that resides in the individual, he said, “is new in nature. And none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”

Tupac brought this point home more fully in his poem, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from concrete?” he asked.

I have.

(Keep checking this space for upcoming stories on self-reliance and wealth-building in communities of colors. And don’t forget to subscribe and donate.)

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