Imagine being torn from your affluent life and placed into a foreign environment that stripped you of all your rights and dignity. Every ounce of your being wants to communicate with your loved ones and the world you once knew but you no longer have the means to communicate. You’re completely helpless.
This was a scene from the 2014 Best Picture, 12 Years A Slave. The movie tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African-American man who was kidnapped from his family in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.
I recently watched this movie for the first time and was struck by one of the opening scenes where the enslaved Northup was trying to write a letter with a sharpened stick, a piece of stolen paper, and the juice of some blackberries for ink. His attempt to secretly write of his unlawful situation fails as the blackberry juice isn't thick enough. Knowing it'll be another few years before getting another opportunity to write, Northup’s frustration boils over and he slams the cup of blackberries to the ground.
After 12 years of bondage in Louisiana, Northup finally found a way to write and deliver his letter to his friends and family in New York. It was this very letter that secured his release.
In 1853, Northup published a slave narrative memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, where he exposed the slave markets in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, and described at length cotton and sugar cultivation and slave treatment on major plantations in Louisiana. The book sold 30,000 copies, making it a best seller in it’s own right.
It’s incredible to think that the inability to write and share a letter kept a man in bondage for 12 years. What a stark reminder about the power of writing and the gift of today’s connected world to share ideas, information, and knowledge.
The pen is truly mightier than the sword.
Mark Zuckerberg recently wrote in a Facebook Townhall Q&A that for every 10 people who gain access to the Internet, about 1 person is raised out of poverty. Keyboard keys are mighty. Communication is a powerful privilege.
And yet how many folks aren’t taking advantage of a global platform to share their unique story, talents, and perspectives to better humanity? Not enough.
Similar to Northup, when I write, I often have in mind my children (however, in my case it’s my future children). Will they be embarrassed and ashamed by my words? Or will they be pleased and appreciative? Probably all of the above.
But more importantly, I hope they are proud of the hard work and bravery it took to transcribe my thoughts into words with the hope of it serving others. And I hope my words inspire them to give more than to take from this world and to attack their dreams with the same level of vigor.
Question: What story will you share with the world?