Eugene Woods, President and CEO of Carolina’s HealthCare System, opened up his keynote address at the YWCA’s 17th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Business and Professional Breakfast with a warm smile and charismatic energy. He shared what he had learned through his friend, who was smitten for Charleston and his experience with the new National African American Museum of History and Culture in DC, being sure to share his excitement about the P Funk band exhibit that made him stop in his tracks. His ability to be transparent about his diverse way of living life, along with the importance of African American culture, created a warm energy throughout the early morning audience of 200 plus business professional and community leaders.
Mr. Woods shared how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been disappointed about the disenfranchisement in our communities throughout the country today. He felt that he would not have condoned the violence, and would have challenged us to direct the anger and hurt to listen to the language of the unheard.
The voice of the unheard to Mr. Woods, a senior healthcare professional, is all too familiar. He knows all of the statistics, considering the data that he sees each day. A recent bus tour taken in the rural communities of Charlotte, NC, the place that he calls home, confirmed the challenges that many of the unheard face every day. He was reminded of Dr. King’s message in Montgomery, AL in 1957 that asked the question “What are you doing for others?”
Mr. Woods was careful to clarify his meaning behind the question. “Not what are you saying you are doing for others. Not what you are tweeting or posting on Facebook, but are you ACTUALLY DOING for others?”
He went on to advise the attendees, now staring back at him with faces of uncertainty, “History has its eyes on us. What we do as a people – matters. We can’t wait for people in DC to tell us how to solve issues within our own communities. We must finish the jobs ourselves because history has its eyes on us.”
In closing, Mr. Woods shared an experience he had while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Tanzania that tested him physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. As he pushed through the journey, he remembered his two sons who were cheering him on at home and how telling them he made it halfway up was not going to be the same as celebrating making it to the top.
As he pushed through, he was touched by the different people he met along the way, similar one of the United Nations, yet they all had the same desires and goals for their children, with similar fear. However, they realized that if they all helped each other, they would all make it to the top together. What he gleaned from that experience is one that we can all relate to and apply personally and professionally: Perseverance is a systemic change no matter how steep the climb. It is always important to remember who we are and who are climbing for.
Unfortunately, as Mr. Wood reached the top of the mountain, he was not able to see the vision of one of the most beautiful mysteries of the world he had climb so far to see, but what he did receive was that even though he could not see it, he knew it was there, and he had made it to the top.
Friends, as we reflect and honor the work that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. let us remember that he, too, could not see what was to come, but he focused on what he was called to do. As you look upon your journey in the communities you live, work and worship, look past the beautiful things that make you feel good and safe, and remember those who are unheard. Then, remind yourself, “History has its eyes upon me. What will I be judged on?”