'Part of being young is changing the world'

April 25, 2006|by SARAH OFOSU-ABEYAW

This year, Kweisi Mfume is campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat from Maryland held by Paul Sarbanes.

Despite his busy schedule on the campaign trail, Mfume still manages to volunteer in Big Brothers, Big Sisters, to be a father to five grown sons and one teenage son living at home.

Mfume has been running as a Democrat for Senate for a year and things are definitely stressful. But he has a way of dealing with stress. He just lets it roll off, he said.

"I don't take stress into the next day," he said. "Campaigning is the same as life. You have to start each day new, and by starting each day new, you alleviate stress."


Hitting bottom

Born Frizzel Gray in 1948 in Baltimore, Mfume was a high school dropout. His life was going in a downward spiral, he said. He was self destructing. He got to the point where he could either "die or turn his life around," he said.

He chose the latter.

In his zeal to change who he had become, he legally changed his name from Frizzel Gray to Kweisi Mfume, a Ghanaian name that means "conquering son of kings." He said the name change was influenced by his desire to identify and re-establish himself with his African heritage.

In order to fully turn his life around, Mfume earned his GED, went to community college, and earned a bachelor's degree from Morgan State University in Baltimore. Later, he earned a master's degree in liberal arts from Johns Hopkins University.

Mfume said he had to support himself throughout college.

"I worked when I was not in class," he said. "Every chance I had, I worked."

Mfume said college "gave him a broader view of the world." He learned to ask "why or why not" in regards to anything that was presented to him. He learned about the "basic principles that help govern society and politics," he said.

After graduating from Morgan State and Johns Hopkins, he began his career in politics. In 1979, he was elected to the Baltimore city council. In 1986, he was elected to the U.S House of Representatives representing the 17th district of Maryland. In 1996, Mfume gave up his seat in Congress and became president of the NAACP. He served in this position until December 2004.

Taking responsibility

Having a strong support system also helps Mfume stay focused. His sons have been supportive and he "gains strength from the father-son relationship I have formed with them."

Mfume's basic life philosophy is simple.

"Seventy-five percent of life is showing up each day," he said, "and 100 percent is believing that you have the ability to control your own life and to make a difference."

According to Mfume, "life is not about how many times you get knocked down, but rather it's about having the ability to get back up."

Mfume's advice to today's generation is "understand history and the past and then carve the future from it." He urges young people "to take on the mantle of responsibility, because part of being young is changing the world."

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