Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 4 Influencing By Example

A few evenings ago, while in Cincinnati, I was very pleasantly surprised after speaking at, a large meeting to be invited by a company of young colored men to attend for a few minutes a reception at their club room. I expected, when I went to the place designated, to find a number of young men who, perhaps, had hired a room and fitted it up for the purpose of gratifying their own selfish pleasures. I found that this was not the case. Instead, I found fifteen young men whose ages ranged from eighteen to twenty years, who had banded themselves together in a club known as the " Winona Club," for the purpose of improving themselves, and further, for the purpose, so far as possible, of getting hold of other young colored men in the city who were inclined in the wrong direction. I found a room beautifully fitted up, with a carpet on the floor, with beautiful pictures 'upon the walls, with books and pictures in their little library, and with fifteen of the brightest, most honest, and cleanest looking young men that it has been my pleasure to meet for a long time.

It was a very pleasant surprise to find these young men, especially in the midst of the temptations of a Northern city, in the midst of evil surroundings, banded together for influencing others in the right direc-tion.

These young men came together, and at their first meeting said that they were going to band themselves together for the purpose of improv-ing themselves and helping others. They said that the first article in their constitution should be to the effect that there should be no gambling in that club; that there must be no strong drink allowed in that club, and that there should be nothing there that was not in keeping with the life of a true and high-minded gentleman.

I repeat that it was very pleasant and encouraging for me to find such work as this going on in Cincinnati. What was equally gratifying, and surprising, was that at the close of the reception they presented me with a neat sum of money which they had collected, and asked that this money be used to defray the expenses of some student at the school here.

Now the point I especially want to make tonight is this: all of you must bear in mind the fact that you are not only to keep yourselves clean, and pure, and sober, and true, in every respect, but you owe a constant responsibility to yourself to see that you exert a helpful influ-ence on others also.

A large proportion of you are to go from here into great cities. Some of you will go into such cities as Montgomery, and some, perhaps, will go into the cities of the North-although I hope that the most of you will see your way clear to remain in the South. I believe that you will do better to remain in the country districts than to go into the cities. I believe that you will find it to your advantage in every way to try to live in a small town, or in a country district, rather than in a city. I believe that we are at our best in country life-in agricultural life-and too often at our worst in city life. Now when you go out into the world for your-selves, you must remember in the first place that you cannot hold your-selves up unless you keep engaged and out of idleness. No idle person is ever safe, whether he be rich or poor. Make up your minds, whether you are to live in the city, or in the country that you are going to be constantly employed.

In a rich and prosperous country like America there is absolutely no excuse for persons living in idleness. I have little patience with persons who go around whining that they cannot find anything to do. Especially is this true in the South. Where the soil is cheap there is little or no excuse for any man or woman going about complaining that he or she cannot find work. You cannot set proper examples unless you, yourself, are constantly employed. See to it, then, whether you live in a city, a town, or in a country district, that you are constantly employed when you are not engaged in the proper kind of recreation, or in rest. Unless you do this you will find that you will go down as thousands of our young men have gone down-as thousands of our young men are constantly going down who yield to the temptations which beset them.

Refrain from staking your earnings upon games of chance. See to it that you pass by those things which tend to your degradation. Teach this to others. Teach those with whom you come in contact that they cannot lead strong, moral lives unless they keep away from the gambling table. See to it that you regulate your life properly; that you regulate your hours of sleep.

Have the proper kinds of recreation. Quite a number of our young men in the cities stay up until twelve, one and two o'clock each night. Sometimes they are at a dance, and sometimes at the gambling table, or in some brothel, or drinking in some saloon. As a result they go late to their work, and in a short time you hear them complaining about having lost their positions. They will tell you that they have last their jobs on account of race prejudice, or because their former employers are not going to hire colored help any longer. But you will find, if you learn the real circumstances, that it is much more likely they have lost their jobs because they were not punctual, or on account of carelessness.

Then, too, you will find that you will go down if you yield to the temptation of indulging in strong drink. That is a thing that is carrying a great many of our young men down. I do not say that all of our men are of this class or that all of them yield to temptations, because I can go into many of the large cities and find just such men as those in Cincinnati to whom I have referred. You cannot hope to succeed if you keep bad company. As far as possible, try to form the habit of spending your nights at home. There is nothing worse for a young man or young woman than to get into the habit of thinking that he or she must spend every night on the street or in some public place.

I want you, as you go out from this institution, whether you are graduates or not, whether you have been here one year or four years-to go out with the idea that you must set a high example for everyone in your community. You must remember that the people are watching you every day. If you yield to the temptation of strong drink, of going into bad company, others will do the same thing. They will shape their lives after yours. You must so shape your lives that the hundreds and thou-sands of those who are looking to you for guidance may profit by your example.