Time has come to move forward, not backward

Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 2:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 2:48 p.m.

Black, Republican and the past president of the Alachua County branch NAACP.

I was born in inner-city Washington, D.C., and lived in a two-bedroom apartment with my siblings, and sometimes my step siblings.

That's right — six children — four boys and two girls in one room. I never saw myself as poor, although I know we didn't have much. We had meals all the time, but dessert was a special treat. If anything, it was Jell-O with the occasional fruit cocktail.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a farmer, veterinarian, or zoologist after watching the Mutual of Omaha “Wild Kingdom” on our black-and-white yellow TV. I attended private school because at that time the D.C. school system was two years behind the private schools.

My parents worked overtime to pay for private school and create a better life for their children. There were no Nike sneakers, although Adidas and Converse were popular. For us, sneakers were purchased at Giant or Safeway (a grocery store like Publix).

Although we were teased by our peers, it made us stronger. It made us want for more. It made us want to make sure that our parents were taken care of. My mom and dad worked for the Library of Congress and although neither has a college degree, they stressed education and knowing who we were. Black history and books written by black authors were read to supplement the mandated school readings.

Watching “Roots” was mandatory and books that complimented the TV series described horrible stories about how slaves were treated. (These stories made “Roots” seem watered down.) Remember, they worked at the Library of Congress, so no books were off limits.

We saw the long hours they spent sacrificing. Today, we are all successful. One brother is a D.C. police officer, one brother is in the U.S. Navy, a sister works for the D.C. government and owns a cleaning company, one sister is a bank executive, one brother is a postal employee and another a university administrator.

Yes, the latter sibling is me.

After graduating from Archbishop John Carroll High School, I attended Morgan State University as a pre-veterinary medicine major. I continued my studies at Penn State University, Tuskegee University and the University of Zimbabwe.

After receiving a fellowship, I worked for the Swaziland, Africa, government as assistant director of the Veterinary Investigations Laboratory. That's when I learned of a disease that would bring me to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida for a Ph.D. in infectious diseases.

I joined the faculty for four years, but discovered my value in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and more importantly, what value I could have for children like me who grew up in poverty.

I moved to the College of Education in 2001 as director for Recruitment, Retention & Multicultural Affairs. I used this position to reach out to future teachers, children in Alachua County and UF students to let them know that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it.

Now, you understand the first part of my title, which is black. So how did I become a Republican? Before my grandfather passed away in 1979, we talked about political parties and getting too caught up in what they stand for, but he did stress that I would have to make a decision and for me to learn as much as I could about it.

Most of my family were Democrats and that would have been easy, so I decided I would look into the Republican Party. I read the U.S. Constitution 10 times and researched in libraries about both parties. I made my mind up — I will become a Republican.

Throughout the years, I must tell you the truth, I have been disappointed by both major parties, but I have always learned that if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.

Many black Republicans have disappointed me because they don't speak up about things that are important to our community. I speak truth to power. I understand our needs for good-paying jobs, a great education, and a better quality of life.

To be honest with you — a party will not provide you with that. The haves will always want to keep the have-nots down. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or Independent. I don't think I have made it and may never make it, but I will not sell my blackness for a political affiliation.

My forefathers and foremothers died for our “so-called” freedoms. What are we willing to sacrifice? Jesus died so that we can live, so what are you willing to sacrifice? Parents did everything so that their children can live better lives than they did, so what sacrifice are we making for our children?

There are no more excuses. No more reasons to neglect our sons and daughters and leave them to the streets to grow. And if that is what makes me conservative and a Republican, I will continue to be a card-carrying member, but I will not forsake my people for even a penny more.

For close to 10 years, I served as the president of the Alachua County branch NAACP. I have seen the injustices in our community, school system, criminal justice system, economic system, housing system, health system, and the list goes on.

We are going backwards, my sisters and brothers. God does not help those who do not help themselves. Don't look to our “so-called” leaders, become our leaders. You can make a difference.

I saw the people in Kennedy Homes say we will not be subjected to this any longer. I told several judges that business would not be as usual. I met with leaders in the education system who often cry of not enough money, but promote their colleagues quicker than a blink of an eye. Meanwhile, our children are falling behind and they are blaming us — the parents and guardians.

We have to speak truth to power. We have to condemn sending poor educational leaders to our schools and after they fail, rewarding them by promoting them.

But it's up to us. I can't do it alone.

I am merely black, a Republican, and past president of the Alachua County branch NAACP.

Dr. Michael Bowie is director of Education, Recruitment, Retention and Multicultural Affairs in the College of Education at the University of Florida.

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