Our View: Inspirational leaders forged by adversity

2018
Herring hosted a "Wonder Woman" night with fellow female delegates following the movie's release last year (Courtesy Photo)
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The oft-quoted proverb by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “What does not kill me makes me stronger,” is overused, but that doesn’t mean it’s not largely true. At a minimum, obstacles that we overcome can shape our worldview and give us the ability to put future problems in perspective.

Perhaps it’s fitting, during Black History Month, that several pieces in this week’s Alexandria Times provide examples of minorities whose obstacles became the basis for their achievement.

On the front page is the story of Del. Charniele Herring, who as a child was homeless along with her mother for a few months. That difficult experience has given Herring an invaluable insight into what it’s like to live on the margins of society – and it turned her into a forceful advocate for those in need.

Herring earned a law degree, began serving on boards and commissions and ultimately decided to run for public office in 2009. She was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, rose through the ranks and is now head of the House Democratic Caucus – making her the second-highest ranking Democrat in that body.

On page three of the Times is the list of people, the finalists, for whom the new West End elementary school may be named.

There are six people under consideration to be honored, all of them either black or Hispanic. The people under consideration are each worthy of honoring; they all overcame obstacles related to their race or gender en route to accomplishment.

Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were the first black president and first lady in the history of the United States. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Katherine Johnson was spotlighted in the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ and was a NASA mathematician who played a pivotal role in the successful Apollo 11 launch.

The final name under consideration is the Day-Ochoa Elementary School, after longtime Alexandrian, influential educator and civil rights advocate Ferdinand T. Day and aeronautics trailblazer Ellen Ochoa.

In addition, this week’s “Out of the Attic” feature on page 33 tells the story of Alexandria’s Magnus Robinson, the son of a former slave who became one of the leaders of the city’s African American community in the late 1800s. Robinson was a prominent journalist, as well as a Mason and church leader.

The stories of these successful people, some well known and others less so, remind us that humble beginnings and obstacles don’t have to block our way – though there is no denying that we celebrate the people listed above because they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

We read biographies, fiction and even People magazine because we are curious about the lives of others. We want to know in what ways our lives are like theirs. We also look for traits to emulate and inspiration for our own lives.

Everyone’s life has bumps along the way – some more so than others. It is refreshing to read about those who are able to overcome adversity on the path to accomplishment.

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