Heeding Malala’s Wisdom

“I truly believe, that the only way to peace, is through reading, knowledge, and education.”
–Malala Yousafzai
Nobel Prize laureate

In recent times, Malala Yousafzai’s voicing of the importance of education has become a global beacon for progress. When she survived an assasiation attempt on her life by the Taliban, not only did it strengthen her desire to learn more, but it made her voice on the matter stronger. Malala highlighted the importance of literacy and knowledge, striving to encourage young girls in her native Swat Valley in Pakistan to seek out education, as well as helping impoverished children around the world attain the privilege of being able to learn in a classroom setting. Something as simple as reading and learning, something that so many of us take for granted, people overseas are willing to die for. Are reading and education as powerful as tools as Malala makes them out to be? I would say yes.

Less than a year ago, as an act of curiosity, I began visiting the book section of a local thrift shop. Books that had been discarded were avaliable for less than a dollar each. I would buy a new book every Saturday. From that time I first started my thrift shop book trips, three particular purchases stand out in my memory: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Gordon W. Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice, and an anthology of slave narratives, including The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and The Narrative of Olaudah Equiano aka Gustavus Vassa. Those books not only opened my eyes to my potental as a Black man, but gave me insight to the world around me, my own history, and the small ways I can better myself and contribute to the positive energy of this world. (I’ll expand on these ideas in future entries.)

Months after I had purchased those books, I purchased and started reading Russell Simmons’ Do You!, a book on self-improvement and self-empowerment. One wouldn’t expect a business mogul mostly known for contributions in hip-hop and fashion to offer intellectual and spiritual insight, but he did. Between speaking on incorporating meditation as part of a daily routine and speaking on taking initiative in your own life, Simmons’ book was a genuine eye-opener. His pearls of wisdom became embedded into my own life. I started incorporating his advice into my day-to-day with positive results. The more I read these books, among other influential books I would purchase, the more I started to transform my daily grind into a personal journey to better myself and share positivity with the people around me. I give God thanks for my spirit of perseverence. And it all started when I took a chance and began to read and learn, remembering Malala’s words that were quoted above.

Something as simple as reading the right book can open a person’s mind. It’s easy enough to blindly follow whatever is on the television, but to open up a book and process the words printed inside is to allow your mind to be awakened. So many of us who are literate take this gift for granted. We settle with just living our lives day in, day out, without taking a small opportunity to open a book and learn something new. And it isn’t necessarily an expensive thing to do. People find books in the bargain racks on a regular basis and gain a wealth of information. Reading the right book can help gain insight to the unfamiliar, helping you understand perspectives and viewpoints beyond your own. To read, learn, and educate ourselves as well as educating each other is the key to understanding each other.

My advice for you is to go to any place that sells books, find a book that can possibly open your mind, and start reading. It can be a biography, a book on world cultures, maybe a book exploring human nature. Read it and learn from it, and share that information with gratitude. Also, encourage others to read. Sharing productive knowledge and ideas is a great way to encourage each other as people, the key word being “productive”. For anyone who wants to help promote literacy, find ways you can volunteer your time and help. It’s as simple as googling “literacy volunteering”. And keep learning. Don’t limit it to inside a classroom. Education is a blessing.

To learn more about Malala Yousafzai and her activism, please visit:

http://www.malala.org

Skip The Middleman

One of my favorite performances by Denzel Washington is his portrayal of drug lord Frank Lucas in the 2007 film, American Gangster. I’m not keen on idolizing drug lords or glamorizing the drug trade, but a lot of things that the movie version of Frank Lucas said makes absolute sense in a business sense. Everything from dressing respectably to quality assurance is practically a how-to guide on handling your business. The one aspect that stood out the most was cutting out the middleman to get quality product. Like I said, I don’t idolize drug dealers, but anyone who’s anyone knows the hassle of dealing with the middleman, be it a retailer or an A&R at a record label you’re trying to get to sign you. (I have a lot of friends in music who dealt with that last one o a regular basis.) The middleman is the gatekeeper that’s in the way of you and your goals. Thankfully, in this information age, skipping the middleman has become easier to do, in more ways than one, and in more fields than you think.

Retail

My first experience of the benefits of skipping the middleman came in a situation we all can relate to: getting a replacement cellphone.  Less than a year ago, I had a Motorola Rambler. I had bought it in 2010, and that phone lasted me for 4 years. Sadly, one morning, I reached to turn it on, and, in a way that replays in my memory in slow motion, the Rambler fell from my nightstand and…..CRACK! Split into two. I tried re-attaching the QWERTY keypad to the screen, but it was no use. My Rambler was no more.  With a trip out of town coming up, I needed a cell phone QUICK.

That very day, I went to one of those mom-and-pop Boost Mobile stores, insisting on a phone that was under $80. They handed me a Kyocera Hydro, saying it was 80 bucks, but after tax, it was over $90 bucks. Not only that, but I was made to pay an EXTRA $30 bucks for some nonsense network change fee, so the $80 phone became a $120 phone. To make me feel even worse, not even a month after I had bought this slow-but-waterproof smartphone, I find out that the price had dropped to $50, and almost two months AFTER that, the price dropped AGAIN to $30! I felt like an absolute fool for paying what I did for a phone that was slow as molasses. To make matters worse, my Kyocera Hydro only lasted 7 months before the touch screen became non-responsive one day.  When it came time to replace it, I had two options: go to the retailer and beg for a replacement, or….skip the middleman and get what I deserve.

Rather than getting bamboozled by that retailer again, I went to Amazon.com and found not only did they have the Kyocera Hydro for $30 on there, but for five dollars more, I could get myself an LG Realm, a smartphone that was getting a lot more positive feedback than the Hydro. Eager as can be, I not only ordered the LG Realm, but I ordered it with one-day shipping, the total coming out to just over $60 aftter tax. The next day, I got my phone in the mail, and I’ve been as happy as can be wih that phone. I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t go back to that store, and I’ve never needed to step into that store ever again.

Retailers can be good for a quick fix, but to get the deal you really need, sometimes you have to skip the middleman.

The Music Industry

Once upon a time, in order for a music artist to make a living, or at least make a name for himself, he needed a record label to sign him. I remember the days when getting signed to a record label was the holy grail of “making it”. Sadly, for most artists, getting signed to a record label either meant getting turned away again and again, or, if you got signed, being at the mercy of the label’s expectations. And there were so many stories of rappers, singers, and bands getting signed to record labels and not even dropping a debut alum.

Back in the early 2000’s, when I worked in sporting goods, I had a co-worker who was getting respect as an underground rapper in the local scene.  One day, out of the blue, he quits his job, bragging that he had just gotten signed to a record label. The next week, he shows up, showing off his fresh new clothes and his Motorola two-way pager. (Yeah, this was back when those were in style, way before everyone had cell phones.) Not even a month later, rumors had it that the label had dropped him, and that he was looking for work. He even had to sell his pager. Stories like his were way too common.

Flash forward to now. Artists can now rely on the internet to gain fame and make money. Everyone from Macklemore to Childish Gambino have been able to use the internet as an outlet to get their music out there, getting millions of YouTube views and SoundCloud plays before radio stations can even blink.  Back in the day, major labels were the only way for an artist to get recognition. Now, artists can take destiny into their own hands if they’re willing to work hard enough.  Thanks to the internet, artists can skip the middleman

I could go on and on with examples both in the day-to-day and in the mainstream of people who skipped the middleman and got more out of it.  Book authors who chose to publish e-books instead of trying to pitch their product to a publisher, independent filmmakers who took their vision and made a cult classic on a shoestring budget rather than begging Hollywood for a job, t-shirt designers  who sold their merchandise out of their garages rather than begging retailers to push their clothing and became household names. Skipping the middleman could be something as small as going online to get a microphone for a decent price instead of bleeding your wallet at a downtown retailer, or something as big as drawing a graphic novel and selling it on your own site rather than begging for a job at a comic book publisher. If you want something bad enough, sometimes you have to skip the middleman and go direct.