06/01/2010 06:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Grain of Sand

The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert in the world. It covers most of Northern Africa spanning over 3,630,000 square miles (9,400,000 sq. km). It is almost as large as the entire country of the United States. Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean, to the Red Sea, to the Mediterranean coasts, it is truly a wondrous sight to behold. However, as tremendous as this desert is, it is only as large as the infinite individual grains of sand that comprise its totality.

Think of it: by itself, you can hardly see a grain of sand. If held in your hand, a single grain of sand is hardly enough to feel. However, it is these microscopic grains of sand that together, create something that is almost as large as the continent of Europe.

Recently, I had the privilege of seeing Manuel Gonzalez and Tyrell Peebles, two members of my youth economic empowerment group, All About Business, graduate from college. I have seen so much growth and development in all of the members over the years as they have learned about financial literacy, taught financial literacy to thousands across this country (even adults), cleaned up trash on city streets, visited/inspired inmates in prisons, toured the country to teach at colleges, and have dissected some of the most complex political issues, making it easier for all to understand. I am sure that they received a lot of other help along the way, I am sure that without my help they could have been just fine; however, I know that the little bit of work those in my nonprofit (The Optimum Institute of Economic Empowerment, Inc.) contributed made their path at least just a little bit easier.

As a community activist, sometimes I feel as if my contributions don't make a difference and I feel discouraged. However, it is during those times that I reflect upon that grain of sand. I then realize that there is no such thing as a small contribution...anything that you do to empower someone else adds to the total "pot" of empowerment. The saying goes, "None of us is as strong as all of us." If we are all doing our part, then just like those small grains of sand, it adds up to create the Sahara Desert. Our contributions add up to create those things like I saw recently at the graduation with my students.

I thought about all of the other students walking across the stage and the small grains of sand that contributed to their process. I felt pleased that I was able to witness the fruits of the labor of their community. I then thought about all of the other youth who couldn't be there that day, or perhaps any day soon because they didn't have any grains of sand to support their efforts. Sure, I am all about personal responsibility and being accountable for my own actions. I understand the buck stops with me if I am to be a success or not. However, does that mean that we can't reach back and help somebody else out? Does personal responsibility mean that we must only think of ourselves and our own success? Absolutely not! I know I did not make it on my own, nor did Tyrell Peebles and Manuel Gonzalez, nor did anybody else that I know. If we truly want to improve ourselves and our own position in life, a large part of personal responsibility is precisely how we can uplift others. I stand tall because I stand upon the shoulders of those before me, and I can lift others higher because of how others have been able to lift me.

What would have happened if my parents didn't sacrifice to provide for me even though growing up didn't have a lot? What would have happened if that teacher didn't believe in me enough to challenge me by suggesting that I take high school courses in middle school? What would have happened in my mentors at my first job didn't write recommendations to receive my full scholarship at the University of Michigan? What would have happened if my friends didn't gather around to support my efforts when I was starting my first company that I am still running today? I am sure that we Tyrell and Manuel have similar questions, as we all do; however, thank God that we had that support in our lives that we didn't have to find out the answers to those questions!

There is no such thing as a small contribution. Everything that you do for the benefit of others is added to the total collection of goodness that eventually empowers and uplifts the entire community as a whole. If this economy was destroyed by greed and selfishness, it will be rebuilt by benevolence and sacrifice. We all have the same purpose on this earth: that is to make the world a better place for others although we all have different means of achieving this purpose. What are you doing to improve the life of others in your community? Are you one of those who has taken the time to mentor a child, volunteered at your church, or organized a group to pick up trash in your neighborhood? Or are you one of those who have the mentality that times are too hard to think of anybody else but yourself? If you are the former, God Bless you and we need more of you. If you are the latter, please understand that your lack of contribution to society is just as good as theft as you are essentially stealing the blessings that were given to you that were meant to be given to others. Congrats Manuel and Tyrell; keep striving and remember to help others strive even higher than you!

Watch the full interview with Manuel Gonzalez and Tyrell Peebles at the York College graduation.

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