Welcome to Nectar News. Today, we’re excited to interview Joseph Holland, a multifaceted individual who is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, and ordained minister. His latest book, “Make Your Own History: Timeless Truths from Black American Trailblazers,” highlights the principles of success as exemplified by the lives of 120 Black role models. These range from unsung heroes to renowned leaders who have blazed trails throughout American history. Joseph, thank you so much for joining us!
Joseph Holland: It’s great to be here, thank you for having me.
Nectar News: Absolutely! Could you share with us what inspired you to write “Make Your Own History”?
JH: My inspiration stems from two lifelong passions. I have always had a passion for history, which led me to complete a master’s degree in the subject before attending law school. This fascination drove me to study, research, and write, making this book a culmination of a lifelong project. Secondly, I am passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of others. After law school, I chose to establish my law practice in Harlem, focusing on community work rather than corporate law. “Make Your Own History” is a creative fusion of these passions, where I explore the success principles exemplified by 120 trailblazers from America’s past, offering readers insights and guidance to achieve personal success.
NN: That’s truly remarkable, especially your commitment to applying these principles within your community.
JH: Yes it was challenging, particularly early on. I’m originally from the South, grew up in Virginia, lived abroad, and then moved to the suburbs so I was not an inner-city guy. When I finished school and moved to Harlem it was a whole new world for me. There were some steep mountains but I believe that God called me to this work. If God is calling me then he’s going to lead, guide, and protect me and that’s exactly what the Lord has done.
NN: What inspired you to highlight over 100 black role models’ success stories?
JH: The premise of “Make Your Own History” is about how the principles of life determine the success of life. When you look at these role models, they’ve had greater challenges than I’ve ever experienced. Some were slaves and had to overcome bondage and gain their freedom. Years ago there was a greater disadvantage for an African American growing up in this society and so they had to deal with the Jim Crow system, confronted by both structural disadvantage as well as prejudice and racism. When I look at all of these examples of how they took on the challenges and overcame them, that’s really what history is all about. Unfortunately, we’re in a time of controversy due to what I call clashing viewpoints of what history is, particularly as it concerns African Americans. However, history is about the facts of these individuals who took on these challenges, lived lives of principles, and attained through principle-driven efforts; great success. So when you look at these 120 Role Models it’s really about their lives of virtue that had them trailblaze success.
NN: Indeed, the repetition of these stories in your book likely offers a powerful sense of solidarity and inspiration to the readers.
JH: Absolutely. The stories are not only inspiring but also digestible. They are organized around what I term “virtuous themes.” The book has twelve chapters, each based on a virtue, with ten role models per chapter. For instance, the first chapter focuses on “trailblazers of courage.” The book not only narrates their achievements but also breaks down the principles that readers can adopt to achieve their own greatness. These virtues are universal values. While the book features African-American trailblazers, its lessons are universal, resonating with anyone who understands the importance of overcoming challenges through virtues like self-discipline, compassion, or purposefulness. Everyone can understand what it means to overcome something because you were self-disciplined enough to do it. Or you were able to reach out and make a difference because you were committed to compassionate service. That’s what really makes it inclusive and universal so anyone can benefit from these stories.
NN: That’s a powerful approach. As a former Director and General Counsel to the New York State Senate Housing Committee, how has this experience influenced your work as an author?
JH: My career has been defined by public service, whether in government roles or community outreach. It’s always been about preserving and uplifting the community. I was in the committee working in the State Legislature and after that I served as New York State Housing Commissioner running state-wide affordable housing programs. However, I was doing all of that government service after I had served in the community where I started and ran a Harlem homeless shelter for many years. I understood what it was really about to serve people in the greatest need. The writing I’ve done now in, “Make Your Own History” reflects all of the work that I’ve done and a blend of historical examples with the success principles that I’ve learned to make this content original and compelling.
NN: Among the various success principles you discuss, which one would you recommend readers focus on the most?
JH: Choosing just one virtue from the twelve is challenging, as they are all crucial. However, the principle of purposefulness resonates deeply with me. It’s about the intention to achieve success. For example, Misty Copeland, the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, exemplifies this virtue. Her story, titled “Affirm Your Discipline,” highlights the relentless dedication required for success. She says, “There are no days off, no distractions. If I allowed that, I wouldn’t be able to perform. Ballet is demanding; I must attend class every day.” This illustrates that success demands daily commitment to our goals, just as Misty Copeland made every day count.
NN: “Make every day count” is a powerful mantra. During your research, what was your favorite anecdote or story?
JH: Among the many stories, both historical and biblical figures have spoken to me. One that stands out is the Parable of the Two Houses from the Life of Jesus. It encapsulates the essence of “Make Your Own History” and living a principle-driven life. The parable contrasts two houses, one built on rock and the other on sand, illustrating that lives built on solid principles can withstand life’s inevitable storms. A historical example is Robert Smalls, a slave who daringly commandeered a Confederate ship to freedom. His story exemplifies the courage to take risks and step into the unknown, a vital principle for success.
NN: That’s a profound example of strategy and morality. What’s your biggest piece of advice for setting and achieving personal goals?
JH: The key is self-discipline. As I mentioned with Misty Copeland, it’s about enduring short-term pain for long-term gain. Discipline involves committing to a goal and enduring personal sacrifices. Lewis Latimer, a self-taught draftsman who worked with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, is a prime example. His journey from a janitor to a key figure in major inventions showcases how discipline can lead to extraordinary achievements. The effort is always worth the reward.
NN: Such a meaningful perspective to end our conversation. Joseph, thank you immensely for your time and insights. Congratulations on your new book! “Make Your Own History: Timeless Truths from Black American Trailblazers,” was released on October 24th, 2023, and is available wherever books are sold.