Journalist Roland Martin challenged University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff students to establish a strong work ethic and exceed expectations Tuesday during a keynote speech to celebrate Black History Month.
Martin prefaced his lecture by calling himself a “discomforting spirit.” He advocated for reading voraciously, making professional and personal connections, not minding critics, and asking uncomfortable questions to powerful people.
“It amazes me the number of people who walk up to me and say, ‘I want to do exactly what you do,’” Martin said. “They look at me and say ‘I want to be on TV and radio.’”
After probing deeper, Martin recalled many people react with dismay when he discusses the commitments that are precursors to excellence.
“I am not convinced people want to put the work in that’s necessary to go to the next level,” Martin said. “It’s time to go to work. … Do you want to put the time in to perfect the craft?”
Martin carries back-up camera equipment, which enables him to produce his radio show. He visited his alma mater Jack Yates High School in Houston on Monday and broadcast his national show from there.
“I needed the students to see what happens when you put the work in, what the payoff is when you get older,” Martin said.
He demanded people take ownership for themselves and their peers. He asked students to raise their hands if they know of a classmate who is at risk of failing their classes. Many students raised their hands, prompting Martin to ask they help their classmates.
Martin shared an instance from when he was a student at Texas A&M studying communications. He was deliberately 15 minutes late for a 50-minute writing class and left 15 minutes early. He gave himself only 20 minutes to do a writing assignment to prepare himself for his professional communications career. Although he earned an 84 percent on the assignment, his professor chastised him, and Martin advised students not to emulate him in this specific instance.
“She was angry with me,” Martin said. “I said, ‘I am different. The rest of these students don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Two-thirds of the students in our journalism department did not want to be journalists. They transferred in from other programs. They simply wanted to get a degree from Texas A&M.’”
His professor did not understand he was not trying to be good, but great. His broader point was to exceed expectations in a limited time frame.
“When you are trying to be great, you put the work in differently,” Martin said. “When other people leave early, you stay late. When other people are playing around, you are not playing around. When others are taking road trips, you are staying back working on your craft. I understood exactly where I was trying to go so I was putting the work in. When you put the work in, other folks are clueless about what you are trying to accomplish.”
Professional athletes prepare extensively for a game, and he advised all people to follow this advice.
“How do you prepare for game day?” Martin said.
Martin takes offense to people who claim that school is not important. He referenced black Americans who have never made more than $15,000 annually, yet managed to own homes.
“Over the last eight years, we have seen 53 percent of black wealth being wiped out due to the home foreclosure crisis,” Martin said.
“When I look at where we as black folks are in 2017, the challenge has to be to every single one of us,” Martin said.
He challenged people to be great, and has visited historically black colleges and universities during the past eight years speaking with their students and presidents.
“They did not say jack when [historically black colleges and universities] were being eviscerated with federal funding but too many of us say ‘We love a black president so much. We are not going to fight for our own.’ I have a problem with that.”
He discussed black students who were denied admission at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 at the order of Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus. Faubus ordered the National Guard soldiers to bar the black students’ entry into the school.
“I am not satisfied on this day,” Martin said. “I have a problem walking down that street for Central High School and thinking back to all the hell that nine black kids went through just to get into a school. I have a problem listening to one of them talk about being body-slammed into a locker as one of the federal troops standing there said ‘I didn’t see what happened.’ I juxtaposed that with folks who say school is not important.’”
A nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate, Martin is the senior analyst for the Tom Joyner Morning Show, where his daily segment is heard on more than 100 stations and by 8 million people daily. He is also the author of three books: “Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith”; “Speak, Brother! A Black Man’s View of America”; and “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House.”
After the lecture, Martin took questions from students and signed copies of his latest book.