Empowering Yourself, Empowering Your Community

This weekend, I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at the CLIMB Rally. CLIMB (Communities Learning to Invest and Mobilize for Business) is an initiative that works to increase financial literacy and awareness in inner-city communities in Wisconsin. I have been working closely with this organization since 2004 and it has been a rewarding experience. Originally in outline format, I have converted, to the best of my memory, the speech to prose form. Take a look and tell me what you think.

Truth and Peace,

It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you today. I am humbled that I was chosen for the keynote spot. The lunch hour is always a difficult slot to fill, so I will try to make this as brief and painless as possible.

When I was first asked me to speak on EMPOWERING YOURSELF, EMPOWERING YOUR COMMUNITY, I was at a loss. I thought, I am only 23 years old, and I am not a professional speaker. What do I know? Sure I had written a few articles and done a little volunteer work, but what qualified me to speak on such a deep topic? Well, the most important qualification I could think of is that I LOVE MY COMMUNITY and I genuinely WANT TO SEE PEOPLE LIVE TO THEIR HIGHEST POTENTIAL. I am not much of a public speaker, I am more of a conversationalist. With that said, I have a few words, but what I really want to have is a dialogue with you, the beautiful people who make up the COMMUNITY of MILWAUKEE. So after I get done, if there are any comments or questions you have, I am open to them.

Empowering the Community

Since we are in a church, I figure it would be appropriate if I took my text for today from the GOOD BOOK. We gonna go to church for a minute. I was raised in a Christian household, so a lot of my life lessons come from the Word. I know service isn’t until tomorrow, but bear with me.

In the book of Joshua, specifically Joshua 4:1-9, God has parted the Jordan river and the Israelites have just crossed into the PROMISE LAND after 40 years of wandering in the WILDERNESS. GOD tells Joshua to memorialize this moment of crossing over by choosing a man from each tribe and have them grab a boulder and make a heap of stones.

1. He says, “THAT it may be a memorial among you, that when your CHILDREN ask their FATHERS in the time to come, saying, WHAT DO THESE stones signify?” v.6

2. “Then ye shall answer them, THAT THE WATERS of JORDAN were cut off before the ARK of the COVENANT of the Lord: when it passed over Jordan, the waters of JORDAN were cut off: and these stones shall be a memorial unto the children of ISRAEL for ever.” v. 7

B. Legacy

When I was doing my research, I came across this passage and I got to thinking: All threw out the Bible, the Israelites memorialized everything. Yet as a group, the Jews have been through some of the most systematic persecution the world has ever seen; from the expulsion from Rome, to the Crusades, to the Holocaust. Yet, today, they manage to own almost everything. And they have tremendous solidarity as a community. How is this possible? I came up with one answer: The Power of Legacy.
In order to talk effectively about subject matter, we need some definitions.

1. Legacy is defined in the dictionary as “ANYTHING HANDED DOWN FROM AN ANCESTOR; AN INHERITANCE.”
a. Traditionally for the rich (e.g. property, a coat of arms, written works, etc.) because the poor did not own anything. It granted them IMMORTALITY because every time their children or great grand-children sat down in that BIG HOUSE or spent that MONEY, it forced them to REMEMBER who made that possible.

b. LEGACIES are formed by mindsets that have been cultivated over time.

For example, my little brother and sister, when they were little, would watch me talk on my cell phone and walk around the house. When they were able to walk and talk, they began to do the same thing. Then I remembered, I saw my dad do that everytime he got on the phone. We do what we see.

Why are legacies important? CONNECTS us to the past, GIVES us WISDOM, GUIDANCE and STRENGTH for the Present, and HOPE for the future. It also makes us accountable for the things we have received and what we will pass on.

2. Community: A group of PEOPLE living TOGETHER as a smaller social UNIT within a larger one with interests in COMMON. A group of PEOPLE with COMMON legacies.
a. Communities are built on TRADITIONS, which is a type of legacy.
i. In fact, COMMUNITIES exist for the SOLE PURPOSE of PERPETUATING these LEGACIES, which are ways of doing things.

With these definitions, it leads to two interesting questions: What have you inherited? And what legacy will you leave behind? We need to take a critical eye towards our legacies. For example, soul food is a bedrock of the African-American experience, but the way it is traditionally prepared is killing us. We are suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure as a result of these foods. Legacies can hurt us when they outlive their usefulness.

My own family was not rich, but they things they lacked materially, they made up for in training and maintaining the family. CHURCH FAMILY, INTEGRITY, SACRIFICE, and CONCERN for one another was of crucial importance. Whenever I would go off to school, my parents would always say, “You are a reflection of us, do not do anything that will dishonor the family.” It was this groundedness and upbringing that has made me the man I am today. Seeing my grandfather interact with my grandmother and his children. Seeing my father and mother do what they did and take the time to teach me about life and my roots that made all the difference.

Consequently, I grew up immensely concerned with my legacy. Everything I did was done to make God and my family proud of me; and also to put my children in a better position than I was in. This is what led me to get involved with the Weekly Dream and The Superspade. I felt that every man should have a legacy and I wanted to memorialize the lessons I had learned to guide my children, to keep them on the path set before them. I thought about the stories my father told me that helped me through my rough times, and I wondered, what stories could I tell them? Those stories and lived experiences helped me through my own tough times when I came to that same fork in the road.

If we look at the LEGACY we are leaving our children, can we be proud? Our parents inherited the legacy of the Civil Rights Era, community activism and social awareness and empowerment. But my generation and the ones after us are seeing one of violence, drugs, absentee fathers, and poverty. Are we equipping them with the tools they will need to FACE TOMORROW and To COMPETE in this global economy?

Empowering the person

This leads me to the second part of the equation: Empowering the person. If we want the community to get better, we must get better. When the people get better, our community will get better. In order for us to get better, WE NEED TO GET OUR HOUSE IN ORDER. So allow me to present the Steven M DeVougas 4-Point Plan for Getting Your Life Together (patent pending).

First, Get a VISION. You need a revelation of your purpose and potential. In Proverbs it says that where there is no vision, the people perish. If you do not know who you are or what you are suppose to be doing, abuse and neglect sets in. I am a big proponent of asking the hard questions and seeking the truth. If you have more questions than we have answers, that is all right. The questions will lead you to your vision. And your vision will guide you actions and fuel your passion. So ask yourself:

From the sixth grade on, I had one goal: To get out of my mama’s house and go off to college as far away from Milwaukee as possible. This goal carried me through grade school, high school, college and into grad school. Now, I am searching for a new vision to build and orient my life around, to fuel my passion and take me to the next level. After years of chasing this one vision and achieving it, I have to begin the process anew. That is the soul-searching I am currently undergoing so that I may achieve my destiny.

Second, Make the DECISION. And keep making the decision, to chase your dream and fulfill the vision. TALK to people who are making it happen. DON”T miss out because you didn’t open your mouth or seek the answers. INCREASE your awareness daily. WE ARE IN A WAR, with ourselves, for our communities, for our families. And change is not going to come easy. We are going to have to fight to the end.

THIRD, CONTROL what you can. You might not be able to save the world, but you can influence those around you and be a local catalyst for change. You might not be able to stop the war in Iraq or the atrocities in Darfur, but you can change what is going on right outside your door, right here, in this city. Take control and be accountable for your actions. SPEAK UP: Talk to your family and friends about legacy and what they are doing with their lives and talent. Bring them to things like the CLIMB rally, so that they can see a different way of doing things. Remember, we tend to do what we see.

Fourth: KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER. Help others and be a resource. Remember, it is bigger than you. SERVE with your gifts. That is why God gave them to you. Not everyone is built for visiting the prison or working in a homeless shelter, but you can do something that you enjoy that serves others, and that is how we glorify the Creator. Keep an eye toward your legacy and capitalize on it. A lot of times, we do not think that the things we possess has value outside of our family or community, but we all possess something the world needs. As a community and a people, we miss out on wealth creation and opportunity because of this limited thinking.

I will share a story that typifies this. At my family reunion last year, I learned that my great-grandfather had a BBQ sauce so good, that people in a tri-state area would come to his rib shack just to taste it. When I learned of this, I thought, wow, my family could be a BBQ sauce dynasty. When I inquired about where the recipe was, the answer I got was, “we don’t know, nobody ever wrote it down”. As a result, Sweet Baby Ray’s wears the BBQ crown.


Sounds simple? I do not have all of the answers, but this is how it seems to me. If we empower ourselves by being our best selves, then our community will be a reflection of that. It cannot be about me and mine, because we are all connected. When we move from a ME mentality to a WE mentality, then change will occur. But if we do not SHARE information and RESOURCES, nothing will change.

WE need each other and MILWAUKEE needs us. OUR city needs leaders who are not AFRAID to SPEAK UP, but who have enough LOVE in their hearts for the CITY and the COMMUNITY to stop and make a difference. The surest way to empower yourself and the community is to WALK in LOVE and LIVE THE TRUTH. Live a life consistent with what you know is right. What will the heap of stones you leave behind say about you?
I encourage everyone to check us out on http://www.thesuperspade.com and support some young brothers trying to make a difference in our own little way. THANK YOU and I WISH ALL OF YOU TRUTH AND PEACE in this pursuit of EXCELLENCE and financial freedom.



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One response to “Empowering Yourself, Empowering Your Community”

  1. Garlin II says :

    Thank you Steve for these important words. This is an example strategy for all of us, and it gives us a great foundation upon which we can build stronger selves and stronger collective communities.

    If I might, I’d like to add another point to the plan: LISTEN, READ, BE INFORMED. Thhe Bible, in addition to stating that people perish for lack of vision, also states that people perish for lack of knowledge.

    We need to stop accepting apathy and ignorance as OK because it is not. People are taken advantage of due to ignorance and apathy because they ignorant and apathetic are powerless. Think about it, when was the last time any changes were made by a person who had know idea what was going on, what they wanted to change, or what needed to change?

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