Get up, get dressed, get ready: Breakfast Group “Tie One On” luncheon
In his keynote address to about 75 male high school students, President and CEO Dr. William C. Bell spoke about preparation, opportunity and responsibility.
Bell delivered the keynote address, titled, “Get Up, Get Dressed, Get Ready,” on May 13, 2011, at the 20th Annual Tie One On luncheon in Seattle.
The event, sponsored by the Breakfast Group, is part of the Group’s rite of passage program called, Project MISTER. The luncheon honors male student participants by pairing each one with a member of the local business and professional community, who serves as the student’s mentor during the school year and his host at the luncheon. Each student receives a necktie and a pair of hard-sole shoes as a symbol of passage into adulthood.
In addition to the students, about 150 Breakfast Group members, local professionals and leaders, and program supporters and sponsors attended the event.
Established in 1976, the Breakfast Group is an organization of African American business and professional men focused on community service and providing economic empowerment through effective leadership. One of its many efforts is supporting youth in their educational objectives.
Good afternoon. As some of you heard earlier, I’m also a preacher and I can tell time and somebody told me, they said let us leave at about 1:30. So I’m gonna reduce my hour and a half speech. But I would like you to pray cause I’m starting a little bit late. You know, as I’m looking and thinking, the one thing that came to my mind was that it’s good to be here with you. You know, sometimes we, we don’t understand how simple words can have such deep meaning. But when you think about your life, when you look back over your life, when you think about the places that you could have been, and the fact that you could have been in a hospital or some of us, we could have been in the grave, as we speak today, it’s good to be here with you.
And I think for you young men, you need to remember every day that you get up, it’s a good day and there’s another opportunity for you to move forward. I, I’m gonna give you the condensed version of what I’d planned to say today, in respective time. And the, but when I look around this room and I see the next generation of litigators, the next generation of physicians, the next generation of politicians, the next generation of leadership in this great nation, I am in awe and, and very appreciative of the breakfast group and all of those who have worked together to sponsor Tie One On and, and to create the opportunity for young men to be in the care of older men.
Because one of the things that I’ve learned is the way we move forward is by someone who has set an example for us and who can show us the way to go forward. The message that I wanna briefly leave with you here today is, was something that came to me in a story from the Revered Raphael Warnock. And Revered Warnock is the senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta, Georgia. And I’m sure, as many of you know, that Ebenezer was previously pastored by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr. And Ebenezer has been in the forefront of liberation conversations in this nation. And today, I’m reminded of a story that Reverend Warnock told about his relationship with his father and how his father influenced his preparation in life.
And he, he told the story that every morning, no matter what day of the week it was, his father would come into his room and he would say to him, Raphael, it’s time to get up, get dressed and get ready. And he would say but, but, but dad, it, it’s, it’s Saturday morning. And he would say, get up, get dressed and get ready. But dad, it, it, why is that? No man should lay in the bed all day. Get up, get dressed and get ready. But daddy, it’s six o’clock in the morning. No man should lay in the bed all day. Get up, get dressed and get ready. And what I wanna say to you today, he would say, but daddy, do you have something that you need me to do? He said, yes, but I don’t know what it is, but you need to be ready. Get up, get dressed and get ready.
And what I wanna say to you young men today, the first thing is you need to get up. If we are gonna move forward with our lives and accomplish anything in this world, we gotta first get up and you need to get up from whatever it is that’s holding you back, get up from that place where you begin to feel sorry for yourself and think of yourself in the terms that the labels in this society have become so proficient at labelments. If you get up from that place where somebody has called disadvantaged, get up from that place where somebody has labeled, labeled, to say as if you got a hard row to hoe. We all have a hard row to hoe. And if y’all don’t understand, I’m also from Mississippi and that’s Mississippi talk there.
You see, I grew up in a small town called Pace, Mississippi. It was 400 people, 16 dogs, 18 cats and 23 chickens. And everybody knew everyone and knew that if that special chicken laid a egg in your yard, it was not your egg. That’s Miss Sally’s egg, that’s Miss Sally’s chicken. But we started, where we started, we’re able to move to where we are today because we first decide we need to get up. You need to get up from remembering what your daddy didn’t do, to what your mama didn’t do, to what your brother didn’t do and the example that they didn’t set for you and what they didn’t have to give you, it’s time to get up and leave that behind because that will not change your future for the positive.
It might change your future for the negative but if you’re gonna move anyway, the first thing you gotta do is get up. You need to get up and move away from those low expectations that people have set for you. You need to get up and move away from those people who don’t have any high expectations for you or for themselves. I was constantly reminded by my mother that birds of a feather sometimes tend to hang out together, meaning the people that you hang with may determine where you’re gonna end up. And if you know you’re dealing with somebody who has not done anything, does not want to do anything, that’s not about to do anything, you need to move, you need to get up, even if it means sometimes getting up and walking off by yourself, you need to get up.
As we move forward with our lives, as we seek to take control of our lives, sometime we have to just say to ourselves, I need to get up. And when we get up, we need to get up and move away from labels and remember that nobody can tell me who I am. You need to determine your own labels and you see, sometimes those in our society think they have already written your story for you. They have already decided that you come from the inner cities, whether it is in the state of Washington, whether it is in the state of New York or Mississippi. If you come from the inner city, if you happen to get to a place where you go on and get a college degree, if you happen to get to a place where you can talk about having a JD and an MSW, if you should happen to move to some place of notoriety; you are the exception to the rule, not the rule.
But I’m here to tell you that you can rewrite your own story. You can decide what the end is gonna be and your beginning does not have to be the main determining factor because if that was gonna be the case, I was a child of the Civil Rights era in the, in the state of Mississippi, the great state of Mississippi, a state that no matter how bad it was in Georgia and Alabama, folks in Georgia and Alabama said I do not want to go to Mississippi. I will take what I have in Georgia and I’m sure we have some folks from the South here. A gentleman here said he’s from North Carolina, but I’m sure he said, I don’t wanna go to Mississippi. So if my beginning was my determining factor, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. So you get up but then when you get up, you gotta get dressed and you gotta get dressed, not only dressed in your body but you gotta dress your mind.
Because you can have a well dressed body and an impoverished mind and you’re not going any place. And so I will tell you while you putting your clothes on, you also need to put your education on. Because if you don’t prepare your mind by dressing it up to be ready to deal in this world, you will just be a good looking somebody headed in the wrong direction. I had to check some words there. But as you getting dressed, I want you to, I wanna remind you of the story in the Bible where, where Jesus, one day he came to a tomb – and I’m watching my watch, don’t worry, I’m going to be on time – Jesus came to a tomb where a man named Lazarus had been dead for three days and Jesus called out to Lazarus. He said, Lazarus, get up.
And when Lazarus got up, and walked out, he said to him, take those grave clothes off. Then there’s something significant here. Lazarus had clothes on. How many of you know that, that if you’ve gone to a funeral, you never seen anybody laying in a casket with no clothes on. Some of us, I, I buried four brothers in, in the last, since 2005 and, and each one of them looked better in their casket, in terms of the clothes that we put on them, based on what they wore every day of their lives. But their grave clothes were not their living clothes. And sometimes you need to understand this, you need to take your grave clothes off.
Because your grave clothes are the things that are holding you down and tying you to a place where you will not achieve. Your grave clothes are the clothes that somebody else created for you. Your grave clothes the one with the shoes that are untied and probably fall off your feet and your pants hanging down by your knees, you need to take your grave clothes off. Because I’m gon tell you something, a dead man can’t speak, a dead man can’t walk, a dead man cannot change the world. You need to get up and get dressed and when you get up and get dressed, you need to get ready. I don’t know what you gon do. I don’t know what, what has been prepared for you to do. But you need to be ready. We, we not only, have we become proficient at making labels for people but they’ve also now made labels for communities.
And they have determined that there’s a label that is called a low opportunity community. And the inner city is cluttered with what this society has now determined is low opportunity neighborhoods. And in a low opportunity neighborhood, they say that, that you have low opportunities for quality health care, you have low opportunity for support, you have low opportunity to go to a successful well prepared school system. You got a low opportunity to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and so you have a greater opportunity to have disease and poor health. But I want you to understand something, that’s their definition. Because I came from what would have been a low opportunity place but in my low opportunity place, there were people who cared about me.
There were people who were willing to step into my life and that’s why I’m thankful for the mentors sitting around this room, because a mentor is your opportunity maker. A mentor is someone who is a giver, a mentor is someone who is a guide and a gateway, a giver of knowledge, someone who can let, help you to understand what they have gone through, what they have learned, so you won’t have to repeat what they repeated. You see, you look at us sitting around this room with these things and, and the way we speak and, you know, I can get like this if I need to, you know, I got a Ph.D.
But, the bottom line is, I’m not the model of perfection. I wasn’t born looking like I look. I haven’t always done the things that Ralph talked about when he read that off. Cause see I know the other person. But what you see in front of you is someone who has persevered. Someone who decided that I needed to get up, get dressed and get ready and that even when I fell down, I decided to get up again. And so when you look at your tomorrow, even when it doesn’t look like it’s moving in the direction that you need it to move in, understand something, that you will fall down before you reach the end. You will make a mistake before you reach the end.
But your mentor cannot be a giver, a guide or a gateway for you if you don’t allow yourself to be available to them. There are many people that others have tried to give into their lives and they close the door. Do not close the door to your opportunity. Do not be ashamed if you fall down. Do not be ashamed if you make a mistake. But think like Hank Aaron said. Hank Aaron – that might be too far back for some of you – Barry Bonds or somebody who’s a home run hitter that you know about. I’m dating myself right now. Hank Aaron said, my motto is keep swinging, even when I’m in a slump and I didn’t get a home run or a hit in 30 at-bats, keep swinging because I understand that if I keep swinging, I’m bound to hit something sometime. And I wanna say to you today, young men, keep swinging. Keep swinging but decide today that you will not be the victim.
You have to get up from victimhood. Because while I say they lay labels, there is a reality that sometimes where we live determines and has a significant impact on where we can go and, and what our outcomes might be. Right now, South Seattle and Mercer Island, separated by one mile of water, but the life expectancy in one of the most diverse ZIP codes in this nation according to the U.S. census, South Seattle – the life expectancy if you live on one side of that mile of water is 10 years less than the other side. We can change things for ourselves. And when we change things for ourselves, we can change things for others. But we first gotta start with ourselves. And I wanna say to you as I’m putting my watch back on, take your grave clothes off. Take your grave clothes off.
If your grave clothes have to do with somebody that you hated with, let it go, forgive em. If it’s somebody who didn’t do what you, what they should have done, let it go. Forgive them. If it’s somebody who did something to you that they should not have done to you, let it go, forgive them, because as long as you hold on, you’re looking back towards that and you need to look towards life. It’s time to get up, get dressed and get ready. God bless you.