My VIP for this week is Robert L. Woodson Sr., an entrepreneur and veteran of the civil rights movement. He was born in a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia, but he learned to work hard, had good family support, and enjoyed a good group of friends. He served in the U.S. military, attended the University of Pennsylvania, and worked for the American Enterprise Institute. He started the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise in 1981 and renamed it as the Woodson Center in 2016.
In 2020, the Woodson Center started an initiative known as 1776 with the mission of saving our country. It gives training to local leaders to help them improve their communities. This initiative features essays by notable scholars and writers as well as curriculum and multimedia resources. It offers “perspectives that celebrate the progress America has made on delivering its promise of equality and opportunity and highlight the resilience of its people.”
Woodson started 1776 “to counter The New York Times’ 1619 Project. The 1619 Project is “a series of essays launched a year ago this month with a very different focus: It teaches that America is defined, now and forever, by slavery.” In the lead essay for the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote: “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”
Believing that the 1619 Project inspires the “diabolical, self-destructive” idea that “all white Americans are oppressors and all black Americans are victims,” Woodson started 1776 to give a different view.
Though slavery and discrimination undeniably are a tragic part of our nation’s history,” Woodson notes, “we have made strides along its long and tortuous journey to realize its promise and abide by its founding principles.”
Woodson continues: “People are motivated to achieve and overcome the challenges that confront them when they learn about inspiring victories that are possible and are not barraged by constant reminders of injuries they have suffered.”
He points to the surprising number “of men and women who were born slaves” but “died as millionaires,” the existence of famous black business districts in cities such as Durham, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the midst of oppression and segregation, and heroes like baseball Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron as powerful examples for black uplift.
And it’s a lesson that Woodson knows firsthand.
I like the way that Woodson recognized a problem and created a solution. Instead of allowing 1619 to change the history of America and paint the entire history and nation as racist, Woodson created 1776 to teach of the greatness of America despite some dark chapters. America was not built on slavery. America was built on freedom and the right of all Americans to pursue happiness, while trying to end slavery and oppression.