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Becoming Fearless: Lifespan Lessons from Harriet Tubman 

By Cecelia Davidson, Ph.D.

“ I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

These are the powerful words of Harriet Tubman, perhaps one of the most renowned leaders of the Underground Railroad. Not, an actual railroad but a secret route to safe houses leading enslaved Africans from the southern regions of America to the northeast during the nineteenth century. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law legalized the return of runaway slaves to the South and posed the threat of kidnapping to free people of color. Courageous Harriet Tubman picked up a rifle and followed the stars leading caravans of people to St. Catharines, Ontario. Only escaping slavery herself in 1849, this petite framed abused woman made this journey hundreds of times. She could have remained comfortable living in a small peaceful community of freed Africans, but she didn’t.

The reason was simple. Enslavement was abolished in British controlled Canada. Freedom was the right of all people. For Harriet, the risks of a treacherous journey outweighed the risks of rape, torture, cruelty and forced labor from an institutionalized economically driven system of inhumanity. Harriet was driven to be a conductor for the Underground Railroad by love and fear; love for her people and fear of continued life without liberty. “I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” Institutionalized efforts to remove the identity of people and separate their connections to family and culture reinforced the belief in many that enslavement was destiny if you were an African in America.

Harriet teaches us about misapplied fear that results in self-enslavement. Fearlessness and the power to change human condition begin with directing the fear where it belongs. Belief in shared political rule requires a belief in gender equality. Those with wisdom and skills should lead. Wisdom and skills aren’t confined to a single gender. Our survival will not be insured by the problem solving efforts of one part of humanity. The destiny of men and women is intertwined. We should fear what our world will become if we don’t have collaborative problem solving. Women who fear taking a lead and men and women who fear each other’s power are misapplying fear and remaining enslaved to ideologies and behaviors that aren’t serving us:

I offer an unbiased plan for becoming fearless drawn from the spirit of Harriet Tubman: 

  1. RESIST false beliefs in stereotypes of male and female abilities.
  2. EMBRACE belief in the power of human potential regardless of gender.
  3. PERSIST with individual, group, and community efforts that offer opportunities for female leadership.
  4. FORGIVE mistakes. We should do our best with good intention. Mistakes shouldn’t mean abandonment of commitment.

Fear of what will become of us…that is the real fear. Fearlessness in our commitment to change will bring priceless rewards.

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