HE PERSEVERED: How William Lewis of HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM Inspired Me to Keep Moving Forward

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We are all underdogs in a way. All of us have, at one time or another, felt held back by something or someone, felt physically or mentally challenged, or felt we were not good enough, wealthy enough, cute enough, thin enough, muscular enough, popular enough, or clever enough to attain our heart’s desire.

Whenever I feel this way, I think of the people from times past who faced mind-blowing odds. In this particular instance, one of the people who inspired me to push toward my goals was an enslaved man named William Lewis – the subject of my new picture book, HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM.

William lived during a time when African American males were not considered “whole” persons, but instead only ¾ of a man (and African American women were considered even less than that!). In William’s day, there were no landlines, no cell phones, no cars, no public libraries (at least not for African Americans), and no student scholarships or loans. As an enslaved African American (and perhaps even if he had been free), he could not ride public transportation, he could not expect to obtain legal representation, he could not attend town hall meetings to make suggestions that would improve his lot in life, and he certainly could not vote…in fact, he could do nothing except whatever his so-called owner felt he was fit to do.

And yet, William persevered. One way he did this was by making himself aware of his surroundings. He knew that slave owners often rented out their slaves, much like today’s rental companies rent out cars, computers and even bedroom suits. Although William’s owner collected the bulk of the money he made as a blacksmith, William saved the tips and other small gifts he received over the years. When he was 27 years old, William used this money to rent his time from his owner. Then he set about working to extend his fragile freedom until he could purchase himself and his family members. It took him 26+ years.

By the way, we’re talking about long-term perseverance; delayed gratification that arguably took over 53 years to come to fruition (27 years to first rent his own freedom and 26+ years to finish purchasing it for himself and his family). And yet he persevered. William did not wait for sympathy; he did not wait for the barely-shifting winds of change; he did not wait for the validation or encouragement of others. He just did it. He took it one day at a time, saved one penny and one nickel at a time…and did it. He persevered.

As picture book writers – or as whatever your career choice happens to be, you can persevere, too. No matter how busy you are, no matter how challenging life seems, no matter how far-away success seems, no matter how long it takes to realize your dream, know that it can be attained. And remember, you have extra perks: Unlike William, you have access to landlines, cell phones, cars, public transportation, online and brick-and-mortar libraries, grants and scholarships, networks like Facebook and Twitter, and even free online and in-person conferences and networking sessions.

Use the tools you have, take it one day at a time, and do it. Write (or do whatever it is you have chosen to do), push forward and look to the time when you can tell others: I, too, persevered.

Very best wishes your way,
Rita Lorraine Hubbard
October 11, 2018

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