A picture of Frederick Douglass

Your #1 Responsibility Starts Here

It’s 1818 and you’ve just been born into slavery. Your father, though it can’t be proved, is the wealthy Maryland slave owner who slept with your black mother. At twelve-months-old, you’re separated from her, and must fend for yourself. As you grow up, you’re shackled, whipped, and told to work. It’s illegal to educate you, because doing so would put ideas into your head that you’re a human with rights. Instead, you’re stripped of every dignity, labeled as property, and deprived of any and all education.

Your name is Frederick Douglass, and you have no accurate knowledge of your age (15). One day you’re working in the fields and you realize something: you want more than this. You realize that everyone around you has accepted their fate and has learned to work the system in order to survive. But not you. Instead, you take your education into your own hands. You make it YOUR RESPONSIBILITY and you decide to aim upward (83).

Over the next few years, you find a way to learn the letters A, B, and C (43) and with that knowledge, trick the white children in town to teach you the rest of the letters in the alphabet (51). Eventually, you craft a set of false “freedom papers” that get you out of slave territory and into the abolition states of the north. There, you share your story and inspire an entire nation (including President Abraham Lincoln) to fight for the cause of equality and freedom.

What does Frederick Douglass’s story have to do with you as readers? Everything.

While his situation weighed heavily on him, he did not obsess or complain about it. Instead, he educated himself.

He could have used violence (he did fight back when attacked, but he was not a violent man). He could have committed murder, rape, or theft. Instead, he educated himself.

He could have given up, wallowing in depression, self-hate, and drunken excuse. Instead, he educated himself.

Take a look at the wonderful books on your shelf. Run your finger along their spines and consider what’s inside of each. You have the opportunity to improve your station in life, no matter who you are. And it begins with opening a book and educating yourself. The hard truth is that nobody is going to do that for you. Your education is your responsibility.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.



Works Cited:

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave. Union Square and Co, 2022.

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