The year 2020 is finally behind us – cue the cheers! We now have a chance for a fresh start – a new year filled with hope and possibilities. The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly far from over, but the change of the calendar provides us with an opportunity to turn the page both mentally and emotionally.
When I think about the future, I am reminded of lessons from my role model: my late father. From him, I learned the meaning of respect, humility and courage. In his work ethic, I discovered an unrelenting focus on finishing whatever he started. My dad always found a way to rise above pettiness and rancor – a value that is perhaps more important now than ever. He demonstrated how a person can play a meaningful role in life, from wherever you are. He encouraged us to rise above the ordinariness of life to strive for success and then to pursue significance.
My dad also had the uncommon ability to connect with people and make friends, but more important, he had the talent to keep them close. His secret was that he understood the power of words. For more than 50 years, he demonstrated the ability to make words rise from paper and the power of those words to change lives, motivate the downtrodden, transform organizations and inspire faith. He touched people he met along the way in a tone and tenor that were neither too stilted to scare the audience nor too banal to dull their thinking or insult their intelligence.
That’s a skill that has been sorely lacking in common discourse over the past few years. Too often, words tend to be less inspirational and more confrontational. People spend far more time shouting and arguing than listening and seeking a greater understanding of each other. Were he still with us today, my dad would remind us of the efficacy of telling it like it is and of provoking thought, enthusiasm, hope and unity. He spoke the truth with power and felt the indignation of those who were stung by the words of truth, and he never wavered.
I lost my father in 2020, but his words and his example will stay with me forever. He had a sense of constructive impatience – something that all of us should embrace as we embark on this new year.
In our final conversation on the day he passed, he bid me a ma rira (“I will see you later”). Dad, I know we shall see each other again, and so I say to you, I will follow your example and urge others to do likewise. I will see you later and make you proud.
Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is the former assistant vice chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis. A long-time St. Louis resident, he currently serves on the boards of the Saint Louis Art Museum, Forest Park Forever, Girls Inc. and Argent Capital.