The Inspiration of Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald3 copyPositive change comes slowly, evolving over time. Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald understood that. Believing that education was the road to a better life for all by preparing us to seize opportunity and provide the common ground that would bring communities together regardless of race, religion or ethnic background.

Booker T. Washington the founder of Tuskegee University and   Julius Rosenwald the man who made Sear’s the “Amazon of its Time”, shared a common care and concern for others and joined together to shape “Rosenwald Schools”.Julius Rosenwald1

There is some debate whether the idea of building rural schools for the black children of the south who were excluded from “white” schools was his or Mr. Washington’s. Yet that mattered little to either of them. Booker knew that education was critical for his people if they were to be able to create, seize and be successful in the opportunities available to them. Julius knew from his Jewish upbringing that education was the savior of his people.

While both men preferred that blacks become a part of the “white” school system they also knew that the realities of race relations at the time would not allow that to happen anytime soon. Their minds were thus committed to what they could do now to prepare black children for the future and to improve their lives in the near term while building the base for the day that schools were integrated.Julius Rosenwald2

Rosenwald Schools were small, well lighted and ventilated, sometimes one or two room buildings that were built to fit into the landscape where they were situated. Grants from the Rosenwald Foundation made up 50% of the cost while the community was required to contribute the rest either via money or work. This ensured that the community was vested in the schools success and parents and teachers would be bound together in the education process.Julius Rosenwald4

The Foundation closed 16 years post Rosenwald’s death as they fulfilled his goal of the foundation living no more than 25 years. It was his firm belief that any organization begins to focus on benefiting those running it as opposed to those it was established to help.

Post the Supreme Court’s decision mandating integration of schools the Rosenwald Schools were merged with “white” schools and played a continuing roll in the communities they served.

Rosenwald Schools are credited with the development of people like Maya Angelou and of many of the Civil Rights leaders of the 60’s while enriching the lives of all those who attended his schools.

Here’s what we can learn from Julius about implementing change in the world around us and for that matter from within.

5 Tips on Positive Change

Hard work and practical solutions go further than words and ideas. Rosenwald knew that for his people education was the key to facing anti-Semitism and knew that education was the lever for attaining integration of the races.

Time Limits Force Action and Ensure Focus on the change desired rather than building empires for those who administer the program. Rosenwald had seen first hand that institutions have a life of their own. The only way to build in urgency and focus is to limit the institutions life.

Active engagement with the world as it is and genuine concern for others in our own communities is key to building a better place for all. His family instilled the basis for his philanthropic actions throughout his life.Julius Rosenwald5

Education is the first building block. “Give a person a fish; you have feed them for today. Teach a person to fish; and you have fed them for a lifetime.” Teaching a curriculum that was practical for the communities in which people lived Rosenwald Schools taught people how to live a good life from their own minds and hands. By teaching people how to build the schools and asking them to contribute to the projects he ensured that sense of community and involvement in the projects was a part of the outcome.

Change is a step-by-step process. Some idealists seek sea change yet fail to build consensus and thus what is desired is never attained. Building towards a goal a step at a time allows room for consensus and ensures that in the long term the ideals sought are achieved.

Let’s all put these 5 tips to work so that we shape the next building block in our journey forward together, now.