I am very wary of recommending movies for others to see. We all have such different tastes and sensibilities. If I recommend a movie I think is great and you watch it and think to yourself, "Boy, old Jack has finally lost it," it just makes me feel badly. Therefore, it is with some trepidation that I am going to skate out onto thin ice and recommend a movie I have seen a couple of times. Each time as it comes to an end, I have tried to get out of my wheelchair and give those around me a high five.
The movie I am referring to is "The Great Debaters" released in
2007, starring and directed by Denzel Washington. I am sure that many
of you have already seen it. The film, based on a true story, revolves
around the efforts of debate coach and poet, Melvin Tolson, (Denzel
Washington) at historically black Wiley College to place his team on
equal footing with whites in the American South during the 1930s, when
Jim Crow Laws were common and lynch mobs were a pervasive fear for
blacks. In the movie, the Wiley team eventually succeeds to the point
where they are able to debate Harvard University (Actually Hollywood
felt a debate with Harvard would be more prestigious than the one that
actually took place between the Wiley team and the debate team from the
University of Southern California, the reigning champion debate team in
the United States in 1935.)
The movie also explores the social milieu of Texas during the
Great Depression, including not only the day-to-day insults and slights
African Americans endured, but also a lynching. Depicted, as well, is
James L. Farmer Jr., who, at 14-years of age, was on Wiley's debate team
after completing high school at that tender age, and who would go on to
be a powerful figure in the civil rights movement during the 50s and
60s. [The information cited above is from Wikipedia]
Although they were not necessarily the focal point of the story, I
was most impressed by James Farmer Sr. and his son James Jr.. James
Farmer Sr. was born on June 12, 1886 in North Carolina. After graduating
from the Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida, he came to
Massachusetts on foot to attend college. In 1918 he earned his Ph.D.
from Boston University, becoming one of only twenty five
African-Americans who held Ph.D.s at the time. He was the first
African-American from Texas to earn a Ph.D. Farmer could read English,
Aramaic, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. He was a good, moral
man as well, and tutored James Jr. to follow in his footsteps.
[Information from Wikipedia]
To me, the highlight of the story was the often repeated advice James
Farmer Sr. kept giving to his son, James Farmer Jr. when he was tempted
to not study or give his best effort as head researcher for the debate
team because for many months during 1935-36 James Jr. never had the
opportunity of actually engaging in a debate, which was his dream and
passion. In those moments of discouragement his father would say to
him, "We have to do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do!"
For some reason I can't get that statement out of my mind. It just
rings so true and is very important to me. "We have to do what we have
to do so we can do what we want to do!" So many people, both young and
old, have dreams of doing great things -- things they want to do -- but
are unwilling to pay the price and do what they have to do each day so
they can eventually do what they really want to do.
For example, I suppose every missionary that has had to learn a
foreign language can hopefully identify with that statement. About a
hundred years ago when I went to Central America to serve a 2 1/2 year
mission, there was no MTC or language training. We were told to buy a
good Spanish College grammar book and bring it with us. I had visions
of speaking fluent Spanish and communicating effectively with the people
-- this is what I wanted to do. To get from where I was to where I
wanted to be was a long arduous journey. Each day I had to do what I
had to do to become fluent in a foreign language. By rising each day
between 4:30 and 5 a.m. for months, conjugating verbs, memorizing
vocabulary, and spending hours reading out loud from the Spanish Book of
Mormon, alongside the English Book of Mormon as well as the Bible,
after many long months I was able to do what I wanted to do and dreamed
This truth of course applies to so many aspects of our lives. I believe
one of the great lessons we hopefully learn early in our lives is that
we have to do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do -- or
more importantly become who we want to be.
My son John is an ER doctor. He truly did not like his first two years
of medical school at USC. It was all theory and little or no hands-on
work with patients that had health problems. I know there were times he
wanted to throw in the towel and maybe do something else with his
life. Finally however, after doing for two years what he had to do, he
finally was able to do what he wanted to do -- be a doctor and help
people. He is currently a critical care doctor flying wounded troops
from Afghanistan to Germany and after they are sufficiently stabilized,
flying them from Germany to Walter Reed Hospital in the United States.
What satisfaction this must give to him to help keep these special
people alive so they can get the help they need to improve the quality
of their lives. Had he thrown in the towel prematurely, and not done
what he had to do when he had to do it, he never would have been able to
do what he really wanted to do with his life.
I'm going to tweak the James L. Farmer philosophy just a bit, but I
think in an important way. My life has taught me that "We must do what
we have to do so that we can do what we may have to do."
Life being what it is, full of bumps and detours and curves that we
never expected to see, some of us may never really get to do what we
wanted to do and dreamed of doing. However, if we have consistently
done what we have had to do, we will be prepared to do what we may have
to do when life introduces unexpected, difficult, and mostly unwanted
circumstances to us.
Good movie! Important philosophy!