Proverbs have historically been used for African and Black American youth for mental, spiritual, social, and/or physical preparation in moving toward specific wholesome goals. The time period in which Black American Proverbs have been used have determined their content.
From the beginning Black Americans have come up with profound and powerful proverbs to help pave the way for Black youth in going through a hostile "alligator" filled path of life. For the 65% of American history when formal slavery of Black people was present, Black folks' Proverbs related to being "safe and secure" (implying staying on the negative side of the Thinker's Scale -- i.e. a positive and negative ruler separated by zero) -- meaning having an orientation to survival, self-preservation, and self-protection. An example is the "Keep going" proverb of Harriet Tubman pertaining to escaping Slaves. During the subsequent 25% period of informal slavery there has been an expansion of the "Be Safe" proverbs of slavery to include those for mental encouragement; or for endurance; or for ways to recover from the overwhelming effects of slavery. For example, one person said: "The most important thing...is that no Negro tolerate any ceiling on his ambition or imagination." Fredrick Douglass (1817?-1895) said: "It's not the height you attain but the depths from which you came." Du Bois (1868-1963) said: "Men must not only know, they must act." Ambitious Black youth must work inside "the way things are" and by "Just starting from where you are" (August Wilson 1945). "Nothing is going to be handed to you. You have to make things happen" (Florence Joyner 1959). "There is a use for almost everything" (George Washington Carver1864-1943).
My favorites as a boy: "Everything happens for the best"; "Good things come to those who wait as long as they are working like hell while waiting." What is not heard enough are proverbs pushing youth forward on the positive scale: "To struggle and battle and overcome and absolutely defeat every force designed against us is the only way to achieve" (Nannie Burroughs 1871-1961). "You have the ability, now apply yourself" (Benjamin Mays 1895- 1984). "He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life" (Muhammad Ali 1942). For ambitious Black youth: "it is necessary to do twice as much to get half as far"; "Black people must stop acting like crabs-in-abarrel and work together”; and "God makes three requests of his children: Do the best you can, where you are, and with what you have, now.” These remain good advice but they are not enough. Forward progress Motivation Proverbs include: "Do a mile of work to make an inch of progress"; "Work is Love made visible"; "Your mission is to discover and develop your talent for the benefit of the Black community"; "Making the most of everything trumps having the best of everything."
Today, certain Proverbs are either in need of up-dating or are simply out of date. These include recent Proverbs geared to making comfortable enslaved Black youth (e.g. "It's not what you achieve but what you overcome"). Presently out-of-date is: “This is the way we have always done it and so don’t disturb things by trying to change them.” First, this does not chide youth to leave the status quo. Second, it does not apply to solving today's "Doing" problems in making money or changing belief systems because struggling Black Americans have no tradition of success to follow in either area. The point is for the Black Community to re-evaluate the advice it gives to its youth so as to help them get out of their status quo comfort zone to head toward mental recovery from the effects of slavery. Meanwhile, it is better to praise youth for their good behavior than to punish them for their bad behavior. As a result, Youth will tend to behave in ways that bring praise.
Ref: Bailey: Unlocking Minds of Black Boys
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