Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pep Talk: "Become Superior Today"

The text sent on a November college football Saturday morning was clear, concise and compelling: “Become superior today!”

It was sent to a beloved client. A college football coach who has enjoyed great success but never rests on laurels. This past off-season, after coming close once again to claiming the ultimate prize, his team had fallen short of its goals and expectations.

The team played deep into the 2012 playoffs but its leader was looking for a way to motivate his troops to keep pushing. During a Pep Talk at spring practice, I had shared with the players, coaches, staff and visitors a story. The message within the story has become a motto for the current season, which has yet to have a blemish.

It might be a good motto for you right now. Maybe somebody you know and love who is struggling a bit? Perhaps there’s challenges at home, work or elsewhere? Well, take a cue from one of our nation’s great civil rights’ visionaries and constantly strive to become superior to your former self.

Here’s the story that birthed a football team’s motto that is splattered on walls and garments the players and coaches walk by and wear daily.

First, some background. I discovered it quite by accident. Whitney Young’s quote, which has been attributed to others as well, was at the bottom of a monthly invoice from Kinetics Fitness Studio. That’s where I sweat daily. It’s not the fanciest gym in the world. We give the owner, Gene Cisneros, grief about the monthly charge. A story for another day.

Anyway, several years ago, at the bottom of the gym statement was an inspirational quote. The 20 words had become the life mission statement of a man President Lyndon Johnson honored with a Medal of Freedom in 1969. Here it is: “There’s nothing noble in being superior to somebody else, true nobility lies in becoming superior to our former selves.” 

Reading that warmed my marrow then, and still does today.

Young was born in the 1920s in Kentucky. His childhood was rather uneventful. Then World War II appeared. The young man headed off to the conflict and into the history books. He was assigned to an all black regiment of soldiers responsible for repairing bomb-damage roads in Europe. The great war had ended and the rebuilding had begun. People and commerce needed to be moved to restart Europe’s economy. 

A white, Southern, officer crew supervised the all-black regiment of soldiers. Remember folks, this was the 1940s. Whites and Blacks didn’t mix much back then. But Whitney Young stood out. After just three weeks he was promoted from private to sergeant. The promotion caused consternation in each camp. It also planted a seed in the soul of Young to dedicate his life to improving race relations in our country.

Upon leaving military service, Young went to work for the National Urban League in Omaha, then taught university classes on race relations in Atlanta, then toiled for the NAACP before becoming national director of the NUL at the age of 40.

The organization had great success under Young’s leadership. It was during this time he earned the Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest honor for civilians. Sadly, while attending a conference in Africa the former college basketball player died of a heart attack while swimming with friends. Young was just a few months shy of his 50th birthday.

“There’s nothing noble in being superior to somebody else, true nobility lies in becoming superior to our former selves.” It inspired Whitney Young to great accomplishment in a life cut far too short by tragedy.

It can power our lives, too. It has become the rallying cry for a college football team still yearning to improve. It can become our rallying cry in trying to prevail against what ails us wherever we roam.

Paying my gym bill led to Whitney Young. The privilege to deliver Pep Talks encouraging others to achieve goals and overcome challenges led to a football coach seizing “Superior To Our Former Selves” as the team’s motto for the 2013 season.

Where is there room for improvement? Home? Work? Elsewhere? The opponent is not a football team or bigoted person. The opponent is us. Yep. Our tricky brains that often whisper, “I can’t.”

This week, let’s dismiss the noggin’ naysayers and become superior today!

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