The Power of the Past

Updated: Mar 1

The bird is wise,

Look. Its beak, back turned, picks

For the present, what is best from ancient eyes,

Then steps forward on ahead

to meet the future, undeterred

- Kayper-Mensah

It's a fine balance - looking back into the past. Some say 'look ahead and forget the past,' but there is wisdom in using the past to propel you forward.

George Washington Carver was incredibly talented, humble, and a person to be remembered. Born in 1864 in Diamond, Missouri to Mary and Giles, slaves of Moses and Mary Carver, his life was riddled with challenges and great success. His father passed away before he was born and shortly after birth, he, his mother, and sister were kidnapped by a band of slave raiders and sold in Kentucky. Moses tried to find the family but only succeeded in finding George, and paid to bring him back so they could raise George as though he was their own child. Mary homeschooled George since he wasn't permitted to attend school, teaching him to read, write, and how to garden and concoct herbal remedies. At a young age, he became known as 'The Plant Doctor' by the local farmers because of his keen ability to discern how to improve their gardens, fields, and orchards. These early years laid the groundwork for what was to come.

George left home by age 12 to seek further education, working odd jobs based on skills he had learned in his formative years. He went on to college and started to study music and art, passions instilled by Moses Carver. Early in his studies, a teacher noted his skills in botany and encouraged him to pursue this field instead, although he continued his artistic pursuits throughout his life.

In 1894, George Washington Carver became the first African American with a bachelor's in science and by 1896 had earned a master's degree in agriculture - in spite of the fact that one university turned him away after admittance due to the color of his skin. He was then recruited by Booker T. Washington to develop an agriculture school at Tuskegee Institute, where he would spend the rest of his career.

When the school first opened he had no textbooks and used his Bible to guide him at each step along the way. He built a traveling classroom, which allowed him to travel throughout the South and teach poor farmers sustainable techniques in farming which allowed them to produce more food to eat and cotton for the market. He also developed a rich array of house paint colors derived from local clays and plants and encouraged farmers to improve the appearance of their homes. His work revolutionized the health, economic and overall quality of life of those he touched.

In time, Carver helped to transform the economy of the South, increased our understanding of the importance of crop rotation for the health of our soils and greater outputs, and developed 300+ uses for the peanut and 100+ uses for the sweet potato. He contributed to the betterment of his community through his artistic endeavors, worked to build racial equality in the United States, and worked with Gandhi on issues of nutrition in developing nations.

Sankofa is one of the symbolic communicators of the Twi language of the Akan people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. It is represented as either a bird looking back to fetch an egg (representing the future) or a heart. Its meaning translates to:

return to the past and fetch what was lost

On a deeper level, Sankofa's meaning urges one to return to the past and use it as a foundation to improve the present and enhance the future.

We can look back at the life of George Washington Carver and see the myriad of ways he created a path for healing and transformation in his own life and throughout the world:

As a lifelong learner himself, he planted the seeds for others to never stop learning

He used his faith to guide him in the darkest times

Nature was his playground, laboratory, and healing place

Art and music were woven into the fabric of his life

When confronted with a problem, he found creative solutions

Being in service to others gave him life

As you move forward today, how can you take the lessons that George Washington Carver taught and apply them to improve your present situation and enhance your future?

In love + health, M

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