As a youngster growing up in Miami, Florida there was never any doubt that I would attend college. It was my parents’ desire that I attend a college with a Christian tie. Though I practice the Episcopal faith, attending Bethune-Cookman College (B-CC), now Bethune-Cookman University, a United Methodist Church supported institution of higher learning, satisfied my parents. Amongst African Americans, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was revered.
From my first day on the campus of B-CC, the college’s mantra “Enter to Learn and Depart to Serve” was ever-present. As students we knew that this phrase was to be our guiding principle and we were encouraged to believe we could do anything we prepared ourselves to accomplish
I pursued a degree in business. This area of study gave me the option to work in the business sector, teach business subjects or both. Taking a cue from the college’s founder, I believed that if Mary Mcleod Bethune could accomplish what she did, not only as an educator and activist but as an entrepreneur and innovator in a time of segregation and racism, certainly I could achieve my goals.
In 1998, along with my son, Vince Carter, I put my faith in the abilities my college experience instilled in me and the example set by Dr. Bethune to start a not-for-profit organization called the Embassy of Hope Foundation. Dr. Bethune’s legacy also informed my decision to open a restaurant in Daytona Beach with my son. Any hurdles or setbacks I encountered paled in comparison to the challenges she faced. And following her example to engage powerful people with her efforts, I found there were many people in the area willing to help me achieve my entrepreneurial goals.
Dr. Bethune was an innovator. She thought outside of the box and did not accept the status quo. She was a woman of great insight and seemed to ask why not instead of why. Who would have ever thought that a Black woman in the era of the 1930-1950s would dare to boldly advocate for better healthcare services for Black children or for voting and women’s rights or be a political activist?
Who could have fathomed that such a woman could be an advisor to a sitting President of the United States, be the co-founder of the United Negro College Fund or fight for women to be given opportunities to join the military?
Dr. Bethune had the audacity to believe that African-American boys and girls should have the opportunity to be educated, just like other children that didn’t look like them, because she knew education developed the head, the heart and the hand.
The unveiling of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune statues, both in Daytona Beach and in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, will be dynamic, unifying and historic, not only for the greater Daytona Beach community but also for Florida and the United States.
As a member of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, Inc. Board of Directors, I have been inspired to continue to make a positive impact wherever I can. Not only have we raised the necessary funds for the marble statue to be unveiled in Washington, D.C., but we also continued to dream big and have done the work for a bronze statue to be presented in the Riverfront Esplanade Park in downtown Daytona Beach, where Mother Mary will face westward as if to watch over her beloved Bethune-Cookman University.
It is my hope that as we revisit the accomplishments of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, it will be a catalyst to spur unity in this country, and even in the world. She made it her life’s work to bring people together in many genres.
As one of “Mary’s Babies,” I hope that I have made her proud for I have attempted to serve my community by sharing my resources — time, knowledge, experiences and money — where I saw there was a need. Dr. Bethune was not a wealthy woman, but she made a tremendous impact in this country, especially this greater Daytona Beach community. The passion to make a positive difference; making a community a better place is the example that has been left for us to follow.
From my viewpoint, we, all of us, must learn to love. Love ourselves and love others, all others. All people deserve an opportunity to be educated, and all people should be afforded healthcare. If people learn to love, are educated and are in good health, the sky’s the limit.
I leave you with a portion of a letter that Mary McLeod Bethune penned (October 13, 1952) to a student, Suzzanne Rose Lovett, as she sought advice from Dr. Bethune on compiling her educational scrapbook:
Lord, keep me working, keep me fit
At windows I do not want to sit
Watching my fellows hurrying by
Let me stay busy ‘till I die.
Grant me strength and breath and will
Some useful niche in life to fill;
A need to serve, a task to do,
Let me each morning arise anew
Eager and glad that I can bear
My portion of the morning’s care.
Lord, I do not want to sit about
Broken and worn and all tired out,
Afraid of rain and wind and cold,
Let me stay busy when I am old.
Although I walk at a slower pace,
Still let me meet life, face to face.
This is my prayer, as time goes by,
Lord, keep me busy till I die.