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Welcome to this Navigate the Chaos blog post. To hire Michael for a keynote speech, workshop, or presentation be sure to visit the Contact page. You can also purchase a copy of the latest Navigate the Chaos collection and download the Google calendar for free.

How often are you working on making this world a better place?

Today is November 12 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you working on making this world a better place?” Entrepreneur and publisher Robert Abbott learned how to navigate the chaos and became one of the nation’s most prominent post-slavery black millionaires. Abbott proclaimed: “No greater glory, no greater honor, is the lot of man departing than a feeling possessed deep in his heart that the world is a better place for his having lived.” So yes, you can navigate the chaos, translate one dream after another into reality, commit to a long-term daily grind and still make this world a better place. Doing so will take courage, however, and it is important to reflect upon your relationship with that character trait. People who navigate the chaos understand the etymology of courage comes from Latin cor meaning “from the heart.” Having heart is often the deciding factor between those who translate their dreams into reality and other who just dream.

In a May 24, 2018, New York Times article "Visionaries with the Courage to Change the World," Kerry Hannon examined courageous individuals and wrote “Call them what you will: change makers, innovators, thought leaders, visionaries. In ways large and small, they fight. They disrupt. They take risks. They push boundaries to change the way we see the world or live in it. Some create new enterprises, while others develop their groundbreaking ideas within an existing one.” Robert Abbott is one example of someone who used the strategy of making this world a better place as he navigated the chaos.

Born on December 24, 1870, to formerly enslaved parents in St. Simons, Georgia, Robert Sengstacke Abbott attended Hampton Institute in Virginia and then went on to graduate from Kent Law School (now Chicago-Kent College of Law in Illinois) in 1899. The son of slaves, Abbott grew up with a half-German stepfather whose relatives eventually joined the Third Reich during the 1930s. Ironically enough, young Robert was taught to hate racial injustice, despite encountering it at every turn in his life, from his early foray into the printing business to his time in law school in Chicago, all the way to religious institutions.

In May 1905 he started publishing the Chicago Defender, one of the most prominent Black newspapers in the country at that time. In the early years he personally sold subscriptions to the paper and advertising by going door to door. What started off as 25 cents in capital and a four-page pamphlet distributed strictly in black neighborhoods quickly grew in readership.

The paper attacked racial injustice, particularly lynching in the south. The Defender did not use the words “Negro” or “black” in its pages. Instead, African Americans were referred to as “the Race” and black men and women as “Race men and Race women.” Many places in the south effectively banned the paper, especially when, during World War I, Abbott actively tried to convince southern blacks to migrate to the north. Abbott managed to get railroad porters to carry his papers south and he ran articles, editorials, cartoons — even train schedules and job listings — to convince the Defender’s southern readers to come north.

The “Great Northern Migration,” as it was called in the Defender, resulted in more than one million blacks migrating north, about 100,000 of them coming to Chicago. The Defender was passed from person to person and read aloud in barbershops and churches. The paper’s rise in stature and circulation was due in large part to Abbott being a natural hustler. The Defender was initially banned in the South due to its encouragement of African Americans to abandon the area and head North, but the Georgia native used a network of black railroad porters (who would eventually become the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) to distribute the paper in Southern states. It is estimated that at its height each paper sold was read by four to five African Americans, putting its readership at over 500,000 people each week.

In the burgeoning economic times of the 1920s, with hundreds of new products and the growth of advertising, the Defender became an economic success and Abbott became one of the first African American millionaires. He died in Chicago on February 29, 1940, at the age of 69, with the Defender still a success. Without Abbott, there would be no Essence, no Jet (and its Beauty of the Week), no Black Enterprise, no The Source, no The Undefeated. Through his ability to navigate the chaos and publish a leading newspaper that focused on the life of African Americans, Abbott became a millionaire and in turn, also helped create a better place for having lived.

In his article "What Can We Do to Make the World a Better Place? published in Psychology Today on June 10, 2020, Mike Brooks commented on the potential within each of us to make the world a better place. “If we want to see more peace in the world, then we need to be more peaceful in the world. If we want to see more love and compassion in the world, then we need to be more loving and compassionate. When we see the hatred, vitriol, and tribalism that infects our politics, then we need to refrain from being hateful. The good news is that each day, indeed each moment, is ours to take. No matter how bad things get, no matter what we've done or haven't done in the past, we always have the opportunity to do better.”

  • How often are you loving and compassionate?

  • How often are you working on making this world a better place?

  • What can you do today to make the world a better place?

  • How often do you keep your eyes open in order to view opportunities of making the world a better place?

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