By Sondra Whitt
I really hate labels. The kind that says someone can’t do or be something because they are too “young, old, dumb, smart, educated, uneducated, ugly, beautiful, rich, poor, liberal, conservative, introverted, outgoing, young, old, fat or thin.” The list is endless. Any of those things may be true about a person but just because they’re true, that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to the person or that they’re limited because of that truth. Other damaging labels are from those that tell a person what they “should” do or be.
A great example of this is motivational speaker and author Les Brown who, along with his twin brother, was born on the floor of an abandoned building in Liberty City, a low-income section of Miami, Florida. Three weeks later, their birth mother gave the baby boys away and at six weeks of age, they were adopted by Mamie Brown, a 38-year-old unmarried, uneducated cafeteria cook and domestic. Brown says that her importance to his life was immeasurable. “Everything I am and everything I have I owe to my mother. Her strength and character are my greatest inspiration, always have been and always will be.”
In high school Brown “used to fantasize being onstage speaking to thousands of people” and wrote “I am the world’s greatest orator” on pieces of paper. But it wasn’t until he met LeRoy Washington, a speech and drama instructor, that he learned that “there comes a time when you have to drop your burdens in order to fight for yourself and your dreams.” It was in Washington’s class that Brown learned how to use power of speech to motivate and stir people’s emotions. He also learned to never believe the limitations someone else placed on him.
As a child, a teacher had mislabeled Brown as a slow learner and educably mentally retarded because of his inattention to his school work and his restless energy. He continued to believe that label, suffering with the resulting low self-esteem, until one day in class when he told Washington he couldn’t perform a task because of it. Washington responded with, “Do Not Ever Say That Again! Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” This truth opened his eyes and his mind to the possibilities and dreams he had for his life and he set about making them come true. “The limitations you have, and the negative things that you internalize are given to you by the world,” Brown says. “The things that empower you — the possibilities — come from within.”
Although Brown didn’t continue his formal education beyond high school, he believes in the unending self-education that he’s pursued with dogged persistence and determination. As a teenager, he kept after a radio station manager until he got a job doing janitorial work. One day he had the opportunity to fill in for an absent disk jockey and did so well he was given a part-time job as a DJ. Eventually, he became a full-time DJ, then station manager. He went from “community activist to community leader; from political commentator to three-term legislator; and from a banquet and nightclub emcee to premier keynote speaker.”
Like Les Brown, great achievers and record-breakers in all walks of life have accomplished what they have because they weren’t limited by labels someone else put on them. They haven’t let someone else’s opinion become their reality, instead believing in their own possibilities within. Just like they haven’t let someone else decide what those dreams and possibilities are.