Food For Thought - Mandela, Knowledge & Will

CNN/ Newswire | 12/6/2013, 5 p.m.
Vince Lombardi once said 'the difference between a success and failure is not a lack KNOWLEDGE, but rather a LACK ...

Vince Lombardi once said “the difference between a success and failure is not a lack KNOWLEDGE, but rather a LACK of WILL." With the passing of Nelson Mandela, we lost an individual who was a model of knowledge and will. I continue to believe that we in America know what to do but lack a person on the level of a Nelson Mandela. Where are our leaders who stood beside Mandela in the movement to end apartheid? Does the absence of such a leader today signal not only a lack of knowledge but the will to rally around the cause of fighting for equity?

In America, we are still trying to reach a level of both racial and economic equity. Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I believe that education is the major key to address these issues that plague America. We have come far, but are we regressing as we fail to support such efforts? With such regression, are we turning into a society of haves and have nots?

For more than 50 years, we have continued to focus on the symptoms and not the root causes. For example, we continue to focus on health care delivery, when this is only a small part of what is needed to address the health gap that exists in America. Providing access does not provide the change needed in behavior; changing behavior involves education, and education that people can understand. Yet we continue to focus on things that have not worked and may never work. Here is a novel idea: Why don’t we educate people in a way they can understand, i.e., health literacy?

We do have the tools to seriously address the health gap and arrest the movement to a separate and unequal society. As President Obama recently stated, racism and economic inequities are the two causes leading to the increase in poverty in this nation. The question is: Why are we not effectively addressing these issues? Maybe we don’t know about the existence of educational programs that address both. I doubt it!! But just in case, let me highlight a few programs that have been successful not for a few years, but a decade or more.

The Meyerhoff Scholars’ Program run by Freeman A. Hrabowski III at the University of Maryland, Baltimore is an example. Among the undergraduates at this majority institution are the young Meyerhoff scholars who are both valued and mentored. Within this group are academic stars with perfect math SAT scores, athletes who never earned below an A through high school, college kids under 20 years of age whose work has been published in scholarly journals, and students who regularly earn A's in such courses as genetics and organic chemistry.

But don't assume that all of these students are from the top prep schools. Many of these students are minorities from poor families, first in their family and went to public schools in inner city or rural communities. Given a nurturing environment, these students--like all students--can succeed.