Celebrated or Not, Mediocrity Won’t Cut It

Straight talk from Earl G. Graves, the visionary founder and publisher of Black Enterprise

We need to establish higher standards for ourselves and our children

Not failure, but low aim is sin.”—Benjamin E. Mays, clergyman, educator, and legendary Morehouse College president

We have an exceptional new bunch of interns at Black Enterprise every summer, and this year was no exception. They are always smart, eager, hard-working students who exemplify the best of their generation. Over the years, we’ve been impressed enough to hire more than a few of them (Small Business Editor Tennille M. Robinson, part of the 2005 internship class, comes to mind) and we’ve happily benefited from their dedication.

But while many of us—young and, like me, less young—continue to celebrate and uphold this universal standard of excellence, too many of us do not. In fact, too many of us have joined in the growing number that actually celebrates ignorance, ill-preparedness, disrespectfulness, and mediocrity. To say that I find this discouraging is a gross understatement. It’s downright shameful and threatens to corrupt all the progress we’ve made over the 40 years since I founded Black Enterprise.

Now, before you dismiss this as a generational issue, let me be clear: a commitment to the pursuit of excellence is not old-school! Excellence is not age-, gender- or race-specific. It has nothing to do with what country or neighborhood you come from, what schools you went to, how much money is in your bank account, or what you do for a living.

Excellence is a personal code of conduct that demands that, every day, you strive to do better, know more, and try harder than you did the day before. It’s a process, not some pinnacle you reach. It’s a way of life that’s guaranteed to breed not just professional success, but the character builders—pride, dignity, knowledge, integrity, self-respect—that engender respect from others, and more importantly, respect for self.

Excellence has little to do with what everybody else seems to be doing and everything to do with who you are today and who you aspire to be tomorrow. It demands that you mature and improve continually, because no matter how high you go, the bar keeps getting higher and it’s you who’s pushing it up.

It’s no exaggeration to note that the pursuit of excellence has fueled the world’s progress since the beginning of time, which is why it’s so distressing to watch us shrink from that goal. What has become of us when we ostracize academic excellence and celebrate ignorant reality TV?

Closer to home, the mediocrity embraced by too many of our young men is equaled only by the willingness of too many of our young women to accept and even reward it. Increasingly, the line between adult and adolescent behavior is blurred; teenagers seem to reach physical maturity more rapidly than ever, while the standard of emotional maturity for adults seems to be falling just as rapidly. One horrifying result: the fundamental understanding of the pursuit of excellence as necessary to our freedom, equality, and empowerment as black Americans seems to have been replaced by a single question: How low can we go?

When did we allow our goals and dreams to become so compromised, so downright twisted? How can we expect to excel as a nation, and as a people, when we increasingly celebrate dysfunctional and anti-social behavior, rather than the many fine models of achievement deserving of the spotlight? The answer is: we can’t. No matter how much it is celebrated by media and the masses, mediocrity—especially for African Americans—just won’t cut it.

We must revere and doggedly pursue high standards in every area of our lives. We must model it for our children, in our business dealings, and professional pursuits. We must demand it of our leaders, of our peers, and our young people. We must celebrate it in our homes, in our schools, in our houses of worship, and corporations. We must re-establish our relationship with true excellence.

Earl G. Graves Sr. is the founder, chairman and publisher of Black Enterprise.

14 Responses to Celebrated or Not, Mediocrity Won’t Cut It

  1. Yesssss!!! says:

    Thank you Mr. Graves! You have been, you are, and may you continue to be a shining light and a blessing to our community and the world at large!

  2. Donald Duncan says:

    Thank you Mr. Graves.

    Your writings have renewed in me my commitment to continue to champion the ideals to which your speak. You have so eloquently articulated my deeply held convictions in this regard.

    Thank you again for the inspiration!

  3. Shay85 says:

    Thank you Mr. Graves for pointing out what so many people have turned a blind eye to. Passion for excellence is something so many people dont have, and instead, they live with the mentality of mediocrity and living to just “get by”. I have never been satisfied with mediocrity, and I dont foresee that in the future. Im glad this issue concerns someone else besides myself, because ignorant thinking and “small mindedness” truly bothers me and really annoys me, especially when I know people can do better.

  4. V. Louis says:

    Hello Mr. Graves,

    I am a 17 year old African American female, and I wholeheartedly am touched and pleased with your article. I’ve been reading your online magazine for about a year and a half now, and I’m lovin’ every minute of it! It inspires me to do better and aim higher than ever. Thank you so much!

  5. Victor says:

    Mr Graves,

    Is this the way black enterprise works? You delete comments that are critical to your point of view. Where is my comment regarding your mediocre web site. Why do I have to scroll down to the end of the page to read an articale. Why does it take so long to load your page. In order for you to preach about excellance you have to demostrait excellance. Your website does not demostrait excellance it is mediorce.


    • Victor, It seems u r preaching, but u didn’t take the time to spell check your post. You can’t be an avid reader of BE, maybe an avid critic of websites on any business. How can you approach such a man of high esteem? There are years of great success under his belt; of which you are only aspiring to reach (if you aspire that high). If you want a web development job, there are more professional ways to go about submitting edits to the webmaster directly. As well, email your resume to the right department. I’m sure Mr. Graves has a staff that will welcome your complaints.

  6. Charles says:

    Mr Graves your article about mediocrity is right on. One problem the folks that read your article and watch your show is not the one to get to its the ones watching those reality shows. You need to push people like CNBC and Bloomberg to show more people of color and not just during black history month then maybe these people young and old have someone to really look up too.

  7. Tamico says:

    Wow, I actually felt that message, very powerful. You really pinned it. Our youth are not excelling, they are just living day by day, not realizing that years down the line they are going to be totally lost. I have a 19 yr old and 16 yr old, and I make a family newsletter which includes everything from steps to living a fulfulling life, credit, money, savings, college, respect and much more. I let my son read your print in the new issue and very proud to say he is a motivated individual just graduated from high school and is a full time student in our local community college and a part-time worker at Wegmans grocery store. Just to enlighten you it seems that going to college is starting to hit home, 3 of my son friends just left this depressing small city to attend college in South Carolina, my son will be finishing his degree program (nursing) at Temple University and my youngest isllooking for to college. Your article hit home for me.

  8. Yvonne Lander says:

    I’m glad someone touched on this subject. I drive around see all the people not achieving what they can do. My 22 year old nephew is achieving something that makes me proud. He is moving into a management position. I try to keep him focused and still say keep going to college to better himself more. Thank You

  9. Marilyn Johnson says:

    Well stated and passionately presented …thanks for caring!

  10. Mr. Graves,
    Your article touched me so deeply, that I posted a thought on my FB status to hopefully get a discussion started from my 1,600+ friends, most of which are educators. Sadly, not much discussion was started, which leads me to believe we are in the position that we are in because we have no real voice on the matter/issues. Your quote was, “What has become of us when we ostracize academic excellence and celebrate ignorant reality TV?”

    HOW CAN ONE SUBMIT TELEVISION IDEAS TO B.E. FOR POSITIVE, REALITY TV SHOWS? I also read the cover story, and it has encouraged me to inquire on how to get my ideas submitted to the appropriate department. We have to start somewhere! Might as well start with me! LOL

    Thank you for impacting my life! I’ve been a subscriber for 15years.

  11. Leslie says:

    You hit the nail on the head Mr. Graves. Very inspiring article and a truth that needs to be said. Well done!!!!! And thank you.

  12. TK says:

    Can we get an Amen, Amen, Amen. I thoroughly enjoyed this article with it’s powerful and articulate truths.

    Thanks for keeping us informed and empowered.

  13. tyracoleman16@aol.com says:

    Awesome words of truth! This needs to be repeated and posted everywhere for all to read daily. I have passed this on to everyone I know.

    Thank You Mr. Graves, looking forward to reading the next one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *