I recently learned of the story of John Berry Meachum, a figure in Missouri history I previously knew nothing about.
He was born into slavery in Virginia, but at the age of 21 earned enough money as a carpenter to purchase his own freedom and a short time later the freedom of his father.
Throughout his life he had an entrepreneurial spirit. He would purchase the freedom of slaves and most would pay him back. He eventually came to live in St. Louis, where he founded the African Church.
There he taught religious and secular classes to free and enslaved black students. The location for the classes was known as “The Candle Tallow School.”
In 1847, the state of Missouri banned education for all black people. Clearly, one would expect this oppressive law to have a devastating impact Meachum’s school.
But Meachum was not dissuaded. In response, he moved his classes to a steamboat in the middle of the Mississippi River, beyond the reach of Missouri law.
He provided the school with a library, desks, and chairs and called it the “Floating Freedom School.”
John Berry Meachum showed the determination and innovation needed from all educators. We cannot let our circumstances stand in our way. We all face challenges every day. We have to be willing to think creatively and take risks to create a better future.
What if Meachum just threw up his hands and quit?
What if he felt sorry for himself because of this terrible injustice?
What if he retreated to something safe instead of taking a risk?
He had a dream to educate blacks in his community and nothing was going to stop him. I admire his passion and commitment.
One of my favorite illustrations is from best-selling author Austin Kleon. It communicates so well the risk that is required to pursue something better.
Most people see the difference between what is and what could be, but not everyone is willing to make the leap. Not everyone takes action. But leaders do.
You can be a leader in your school when you step out and take a risk. If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker.
Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Be a future-driven risk taker.
Be focused on the future, not stuck in the past. Meachum would never have taken the bold risks he took if he were filtering his actions through the past. He was doing something that was largely unheard of because he wanted a brighter future for the people he served. His dream was bigger than yesterday.
Believe there is probably a better way to do just about everything. It may seem that things are just the way they are. Our circumstances are fixed. But there are so many ways to approach a problem. Even when things are bleak, think like Meachum. Find a way. Try something new.
Learn from your setbacks but don’t be defined by them. When you take risks, sometimes you are going to get knocked down. But even your failures can lead to future greatness. Many of the greatest world-changers of all-time also experienced incredible hardships and disappointments.
Are you taking risks as an educator? Or, are you settling for the status quo? You are needed as a change maker.
How can we inspire educators to take more risks? How can we overcome the obstacles that stand in the way? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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