Sydney Scott, a freshman at Southeastern Louisiana University, continues her series on her life and times as a college student. View college life through her eyes and learn alongside her as she journeys to her future career. Make sure you share with your aspiring AND current college students - they’ll be happy that you did!
Most of us have read the Langston Hughes classic “Harlem” in a high school literature class. You know… “What happens to a dream deferred?”. One of my favorite shorter works of Hughes’ is a less-commonly acknowledged poem, “Dreams.” The poem is brief and simple, but clear in message: dreams are important!
A common message often found in Hughes’ poetry goes something like this: Having aspirations is important, but having the wherewithal to embark on those dreams is equally as necessary. Hughes’ words on “holding fast to dreams” brings to mind a personal hero of mine: Septima Poinsette Clark. I first learned about Septima Clark in a high school history course and found myself much more interested in her life than the content of the course provided. Martin Luther King, Jr. commonly referred to Clark as the mother of the civil rights movement. Needless to say, Clark’s life of dream-chasing became an important model of how I ultimately wanted to pursue my goals.
Septima Clark’s Life and Career Path
Septima Clark was the second oldest of eight children, born in Charleston, SC, in 1898. Her father, who had both been born into slavery, and her mother, were adamant about her receiving an education. Clark was schooled by a neighbor until 9th grade, when she was admitted to the Avery Normal Institute in Charleston.. It was there that she received her teaching certificate and decided to pursue her dream of being a teacher.
After she obtained her teaching certificate, she faced a new obstacle: it was illegal for African Americans to teach within city limits in Charleston. Her dream of teaching in her hometown had seemingly come to an abrupt halt very early on. She began teaching in rural schools while working towards her B.A. She then returned to the Avery Institute to teach, and she observed a lack of African Americans registering to vote, as well as a wage gap between herself and her white colleagues. Clark decided to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to seek help.
In joining the NAACP, she worked alongside the likes of Thurgood Marshall in crusading for equal pay for African American educators. Clark called it her “first effort in a social action challenging the status quo” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
That same year, her husband died. It was at this time in Clark’s life that she decided she would need to further her education if she wanted to make a real statement in her field. She studied at Columbia University, Atlanta University, and Hampton Institute before receiving her master’s degree alongside famed sociologist W.E.B DuBois.
Clark’s career had just started to take a turn in the direction she had always hoped, when she found herself victim to mass layoffs in the sixties due to a new law in South Carolina. The law prohibited state school employees from belonging to other organizations, a law which specifically targeted African Americans involved in the NAACP.
During her unemployment, Septima Clark decided to forge her two loves -- civic activism and education -- to found the Voter Education Project. Clark sought to educate poor African Americans and provide them with the information they needed in order to be active, educated voters. Clark spearheaded Highlander’s Citizenship School program In South Carolina, which taught basic math and literacy skills to African Americans, while helping them register to vote and understand their rights as citizens. An opportunity to partner with the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) soon arose, affording her the ability to create over 800 new Citizenship Schools, and earning her the position of Director of Education. Rosa Parks even attended one of these workshops prior to her famous stand.
The Power of Passion
Perhaps the most inspirational facet of Septima Clark’s life is her example of the power that can be harnessed through vision. Theoretically, Septima Clark should have failed. After all, she was an African American woman living in the Jim Crow South, fighting a battle that was far larger than herself… but her passion was even bigger in size. Clark’s passion for her work kept her searching for the light when her whole world grew dark. Her husband died, she had been fired, laid off from the job that she loved, and targeted by lawmakers; and yet she persisted.
Septima Clark’s life represents the importance that is weighed in finding passion in what you do. If it were not for her love of what she did, she may have given up early on. Yet, her vision of igniting civic liberty among African Americans ultimately drove her to the success that she eventually saw.
Do What You Love
The next time someone tells you that your major won’t matter -- think again! Career paths should be chosen by our passions. Lukewarm temperatures never lead to boiled water -- we must plan according to our dreams, and hold fast to them, as Clark did. Clark’s education and work was driven by her ultimate vision, and ideally, that’s how it should go! It is important for us to find what will get us out of bed on mornings when we feel as though we can’t, as Septima Clark did so well.
Success follows passion, no matter how big or small your career goals may be. Hold fast to your dreams, even if they scare you.
“Septima Poinsette Clark.” Biography.com, A&E Networks, 23 Apr. 2015
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Septima Poinsette Clark.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 11 Dec. 2018.