Place not race — a civil rights journey | Sheryll Cashin | TEDxGeorgetown

you good afternoon how’s everybody doing thank you so much for coming it’s intimidating to follow all these wonderful speakers try to move past my fears I’ve written this book and the end to the book the epilogue to the book is a letter to my sons and it just so happens that that letter to my sons who are here in the audience fits very well with the theme of this conference the road less traveled and I have not yet read it aloud to them because there’s some very painful stuff in it and I decided I would use this opportunity to do something a little bit different the low road less travelled a little bit different than the normal TED talk I’m going to read the letter paraphrase the letter to them part of what makes it a little bit painful as it contains some lessons that a lot of african-american families feel the need to impart to their black boys in private but again what I have to say to them fits with this idea the road less traveled so I’m going to do this in front of a couple of hundred people I may fall flat on my face but I’m going to give it a try so let’s let’s see dear Logan and Langston they gorgeous the best thing that ever happened to me followed by being married to that guy it’s a miracle that I was able to form this family dear Logan and Langston I have written a book that undermines the possibility that you may ever benefit from affirmative action or legacy preferences and I’m writing this book but other children besides you will have not had the opportunities that you had and I wrote that book this book place nut race for this reason in this letter I want to arm you with insights about how to be successful and how to contribute to society every road eventually bends and presents risk presents challenge and I encourage you to face those challenges life will not always be fair to you to face those challenges with the wonder of an explorer and just persevere as your beautiful grandma Harriet who’s in this audience says she’s taking a picture of herself isn’t she gorgeous 89 years old gorgeous she always says this persevere persevere well while your persevering and doing all the things that are expected of you homework reading going to the mandarin tutor which we did this morning piano lessons tennis lessons what do you name it carve out time for the things that you’re truly passionate about and what do I mean by passion your passion is the thing that you wake up thinking about go to bed sleeping dreaming about the thing that you want to do even when it frustrates you even when you have doubt about whether you’ll ever be good at it your passion is what you want to do all day every day if you could it’s the secret to life now listen to me I’m telling you the secret to life if you can figure out what you would do for free and carve out time daily to do it maybe one day you’ll be fortunate enough to be pay to do that but even if you’re not paid to do it still carve out time daily to do it if only because it feeds your soul and gives meaning to your life but while you’re pursuing your passion recognize

that some things aren’t going to be the things you’re going to have to do some things that you’re not passionate about and just deal with it accept it work and work and work some more and if you’re struggling with something that you don’t understand find somebody who can explain it to you and go back to work that is what Cashion’s do I was told this is the earliest picture I have of my from my family my great-grandfather and his first grandson that picture was taken in the 20s in Decatur Alabama in the you know hide a virulent nasty violence back Jim Crow but this family and many other families through hard work african-americans what african-american families had done from the beginning they toiled in the face of adversity and they prospered look how beautiful they are right they prospered that is what Cashion’s do that is what Clark’s do who are here that is what Chambliss is do that is what our people have done from the beginning your grandfather did it my father dr. John Logan cash-in jr. and I hope you will remember him and not just as the man in the wheelchair we would visit in the nursing home before he his voice was reduced by dementia to a whisper he strode proudly in the world and talked about what he would do now here he’s running for governor against George Wallace in 1970 in Alabama talk about the road less travel right he was an agitator but more relevant for this talk he also was a two-time valedictorian who demystified academics for me he would talk about how he would get up at 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning to do mind work when nobody else was around even though he had a reputation as a partier and he was but he always did his work first right now he got kicked out of Fisk University expelled for having a co-ed party in his dorm room when he was a freshman but he recovered from that mistake and he went on to be valedictorian of his medical class at Meharry University and he learned his had the habits of success from his mother my beautiful grandmother grace Branden Cashen who was a high school principal and she took no crap from her sons that’s why I don’t let you take you know give me crap right that’s why mommy is hard on you sometimes right grace Brandon Cashion raised both of her sons to be valedictorian I’m a third generation valedictorian that’s my father there and my uncle Hershel I learned I you know I learned the habits of success from my father and I remember when I was at Vanderbilt my alma mater my freshman year the first time my finals you know first finals period I experienced I remember being at the herd library which is the main library at Vanderbilt I must have logged a dozen hours that Saturday I’d never never studied that long in one day from the beginning early in the morning to late at night and I didn’t think I had that in me but each hour that passed I found new wells of strength and it never occurred to me not to work that hard always I was told to reach to try to in a it wasn’t about the grade so much but it was the reaching and and that is what I did I reached reached stretched myself and graduated summa from Vanderbilt with a degree in electrical engineering and I do that say that like others who’ve gone before me I say that not to be self congratulatory but to say you know for a kid who had an SAT score of 1150 on the first try no one would have predicted I’d graduate zoom in Electrical Engineering push yourself work you saw your father do it last year my husband already had your dad already had two degrees a law degree an undergraduate degree and he went back to school even though he had a

full-time job went back to school just to pursue something that interested him China policy studies from SycE even doing this with a full-time job he worked for you saw him toiling for hours at the computer and always bragging on him he’s embarrassed but always he got an A and it’s again it’s not that great it’s the striving it’s the it’s the exerting of yourself everything worth doing is hard difficult complicated if you are not pushing yourself to do something pushing yourself past your comfort zone and trying hard it’s something really difficult you’re not honoring your legacy and you’re not you know realizing your full potential now it’s become trite of late to talk about failure you should welcome failure but it’s true I failed repeatedly in trying to get find a publisher for this book and it was you know my first two books came really easy publisher getting a publisher came really easy I’m not used to fail and it was kind of humiliating at humbling repeatedly I failed but what did I do at every rejection I’d go back to my ideas wouldn’t give up on it and and once I set aside my ego and just focused on the work the process became joyful and I decided to persist and have the courage of my convictions and here’s the road less traveled point I wrote this book that I would come from the civil rights community I clerked for Thurgood Marshall and yet I wrote a book place not race saying affirmative action should be available to people like Senor Gonzalez who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and low opportunity schools high achieving kids from lower school schools regardless of skin color I wrote that knowing that people in the civil rights community might not be too happy with that argument but I really truly believed that it was consistent powerfully consistent with my civil rights legacy and with the values of civil rights the idea of universal human dignity and this notion of coalition building gathering power among a lot of people who are mutually locked out of selective institutions so where does that leave you my dear sons being a black male in America is wonderful and perilous you don’t have the luxury of being casual about yours life I’m not looking at and one of my sons it’s mortified like why are you doing this to me why are you doing this to me but you know how the luxury of being casual about your life where it can be ruined in an instant at a party where young people under 21 or drinking alcohol y’all have never done that or smoking marijuana you don’t know what that is yet but you will if the police are called you the black boys may be the only ones who are hauled off to jail and that’s a true story that was shared with me to meet with with me with by a friend I do worry that I can’t protect you from predatory policing or the fact that the United States so this society will never love you the way I love you one day you will cease being adorable in the eyes of other people and all I can do is prepare you for that before your face-first facial hairs emerge you will notice that some people are afraid of you they may lack the empathy that you already possess every day when we go to school we pass the same to homeless women every day and you ask about that person you look at them you don’t look at the other way you ask about that person how she got there how she survives what she eats you sometimes talk about giving them some money and I encourage you in that that’s another legacy of your family caring and giving about caring about other people giving to other people I skipped over something I’m coming back

to the the predatory point this is an old story in America this idea of predation and then profiling of black folks your great-grandfather your great-great-grandfather Herschel Vivian Kasia was violently ejected from a train in 1890 even though this patrician lawyer you know he’s a patrician lawyer just because he sat where he wanted to your father your grandfather who I talked about was violently clubbed over the head by a state trooper knocked unconscious because he got out of his fancy convertible talking to confidently to the police in his estimation your mother me was stopped for speeding I was speeding I was beatings but stopped in Avondale Estates for speeding the policeman made me get out of the car stand spread eagle and he frisked me and it was 1986 I was skinny then I was 40 pounds ago so no way that that policeman was it could have been afraid of me and that was the point I was making I can’t prepare you I can’t protect you from predatory policing but we have to persevere now giving and caring that empathy point I was on giving and caring is a family value of ours your great great grandparents were out on the other side grandma Harriet’s parents modeled that this is John Francis Clarke and Hattie Clarke they raised five children in West Virginia four of them became doctors and the fifth became a lawyer two of them are here in this audience John Francis Clarke educated at the University of Chicago and Harvard was a school principal leading educator in West Virginia Hattie was a brilliant girl became a teacher at fifteen bought her first piece of property at 17 striving people their house during the Depression was filled to bursting with people who had lost everything again this is the legacy we were following that legacy of lifting up your family which you must always do they will lift you up when you stumble we were followed following that legacy when we took in your cousin to put her through college but beyond family you need allies and I want you to try to find your allies whatever color they may be some people you won’t be able to connect with try to understand their perspective but if you can’t connect with them move on when you were about 18 months old I was with your father we took you to a restaurant and a maitre d leaned down and looked at both of you and said which one of you is going to be a rapper and which one of you is going to be a ballplayer and I said over his head how about a doctor or a lawyer and he lifts up looked me in the eye and said a man kind of high aren’t we with a tinge of resentment and I would left the row you know I had with my blue meal there we had a meal and I left the restaurant seething but but as I thought about it for a minute from his perspective I thought well you know maybe that man is really struggling to raise his kids on what he makes in that restaurant and his kids may have the privilege of not worrying about being profiled by the police but your family had you have two parents with six degrees between you and their and his children don’t have the same opportunity and there are a lot of other children who don’t have the same opportunities to as you do and we have to begin to heal this country set it on a new course of fairness and if we continue to have the situation now of sequestered and advantages for people who are already

advantaged opportunity hoarding I call it I think will have given up on the idea of America and I’m not ready to do that so I take I take heart in the fact that your generation will be the first will be better the first generation in American history where no one group is dominant you will be better but you won’t realize your potential if you don’t consciously try to build multiracial coalition’s for the common good now I won’t burden you with leadership but I will expect you to join a multiracial coalition for fairness that attacks the separate and an equal system that we have today so put on your armor prove others wrong and their assumptions about you find your multiracial army and fight together for the country you deserve thank