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Jewish World Review March 3, 2005/ 22 Adar I, 5765

Larry Elder

Larry Elder
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Congratulations, Jamie Foxx! | Actor/comedian/musician Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for his extraordinary performance in the movie, "Ray." Foxx also received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Collateral."

Foxx's success is what America is all about. He grew up in Texas, raised by his grandmother. He developed interests in music and sports, and became his high school quarterback. He won a scholarship to U.S. International University in San Diego, Calif., to study classical music and music theory. He can sing, act, play piano and make you laugh — sometimes all at the same time.

He credits his grandmother with teaching him right from wrong, and instilling the appropriate values. During his acceptance speech, Foxx praised Estelle Marie Talley, his late grandmother: ". . . [M]y grandmother . . . was my first acting teacher. She told me, 'Stand up straight, shoulders back. Act like you've got some sense.' We would go places and I was wild-eyed. She said, 'Act like you've been someplace.' And when I would act the fool she would whip me. And she could get an Oscar for the way she whipped me because she was great at it. And after she would whip me she would talk to me and tell me why she whipped me, that 'I want you to be a Southern gentleman.'"

Foxx's grandmother sounds like my mom.

My mother grew up in segregated Alabama. She once sat me down when I was 5 or 6. We looked through an illustrated book of presidents, from George Washington to the then incumbent Dwight D. Eisenhower. The book contained a brief description of the significant events of each president's administration, along with their pictures. When we reached Eisenhower, my mother quietly closed the book, and said, "Some day, if you want it bad enough, you can be in this book."

Such optimism from a woman who once had to enter department stores from the rear. When she tried on a dress, once it touched her black skin, the store required her to buy it, like it or not, ill fitting or not. In the late '40s, she took a commercial plane ride, a rare thing for a black person, let alone a new mom holding an infant baby. When she got to the airport, she had nowhere to sit or stand. Airports, unlike bus and train stations, had yet to carve out a "colored only" section. An airplane agent presented her with a cup of water and suggested an area where she should stand.

Yet my mom — and my dad — told my brothers and me to work hard, stay focused, get an education, treat people with respect and embrace your faith. A stay-at-home mom until my youngest brother reached middle school, she became a clerk with the phone company, and was later promoted to manager. My dad worked two full-time janitorial jobs, cooked for a family on the weekends, and went to night school to get his G.E.D. He started a restaurant in his 40s, and ran it until his 80s, even acquiring a small parcel of property next to the cafe.

Foxx said the great actor Sidney Poitier inspired him. Same here. I recall a scene from the extraordinary 1967 movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." In the movie, Poitier quarreled with his father, who was attempting to discourage him from entering into an interracial relationship. The father, a mailman, told Poitier about the sacrifices he made for his son. And this is how you reward me? Poitier told his father how much he appreciated his hard work, but pointed out to his dad that fathers are supposed to do all they can for their children, and said to his father, "You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man."

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Let's remember the words of Booker T. Washington, who, in 1901, only 36 years after the Civil War, said, "When a Negro girl learns to cook, to wash dishes, to sew, to write a book, or a Negro boy learns to groom horses, or to grow sweet potatoes, or to produce butter, or to build a house, or to be able to practise [sic] medicine, as well or better than some one else, they will be rewarded regardless of race or colour. In the long run, the world is going to have the best, and any difference in race, religion, or previous history will not long keep the world from what it wants."

Calvin Coolidge once said: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

Congratulations, Mr. Foxx. You earned it. And tonight, when you speak to Grandma, tell her that America thanks her.

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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America." (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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