Thursday, July 20, 2006

Go Back...Give Back

I'm standing at an online kiosk at Purdue University's Black Cultural Center, having just finished up lunch with the BCC's director, Renee Thomas. I had committed resources from my family back to Purdue and was meeting with her to see what she needed from me in terms of time, energy, money and/or effort. Her response: all of them (that's why she's got that job!).

We talked about how things used to be. We talked about how things are and we talked about her vision for students at Purdue and the impact of the BCC on their lives and futures. What, I think, makes Renee the powerhouse that she is, is that her vision, embraces everyone rather than focusing narrowly. She knows that we're interconnected and that the lives of the Black students she serves will impact the lives of the citizenry of the world. Great work, given that she heads one of the premier Black Cultural Centers on any college campus anywhere.

She reminded me of why I came to Purdue: to get a universal education.

I shared with her about a trip I took to Namibia, one of the countries under the apartheid regime. I'd traveled there shortly after liberation and found myself very surprised by the reception I'd gotten. Everyone who'd been to college anywhere in the world knew of Purdue University (sometimes called the "Harvard in the cornfields" -- sigh). Every university I visited offered me a faculty position.

I didn't know what I had.

In the book, The One Minute Millionaire (yeah, another of the "you, too, can be a millionaire series of books that proliferated the market a few years ago that only made millionaires of the authors), suggested that we "tithe where we're spiritually fed." I've found myself thinking about that one line in that book over and over in the past several years. I'm not a church-goer, so I had to challenge myself to find places that had fed me so I could "pony-up." I gave to the churches of my friends, I'm made anonymous donations to temples and other religious organizations. I gave money to charitable groups.

And then I remembered: Purdue, with all of the good (a world class education) and the not-so-good (an attempted cross burning my freshman year) was the place where I'd really been fed. I found my husband there. My best friend, Carol, I met at Purdue (she was holding a sledgehammer and tearing into some old sidewalk on a weekend student event). My mother and I were students there and graduated a semester apart. I'd learned to become so bold that I'd start my own company (OK, bold and crazy!) and travel the world.

It's not a lot by Warren Buffet's standards that I give. The point is that I do. What surprised me was the warmth of Purdue's embrace back to me. But that's not why I gave.

I gave back for that one person who would find their life's mate or study late into the night with a family member or travel and be proud of who they've become.

See what you can do... and then do it!