Category: Realizing the Dream

Sharing Our Legacy Dance Theatre Performs for Realizing the Dream 2019

Photos by Charlee Lyu
By Ashley Cunigan
CCBP Student Program Assistant

Sharing Our Legacy Dance Theatre (SOL) is a performing group of undergraduate and graduate students that uses interdisciplinary art to bring powerful stories from the past to audiences of all ages. These students from the University of Delaware traveled to Tuscaloosa to perform and hold student workshops at Hillcrest High School Sept. 13 and 14. This event was part of the Realizing the Dream series, which also includes a concert, a legacy banquet and a lecture series.

Hillcrest High School students involved in band, choir, theatre or art were welcomed to the event. Tina Turley, executive producer of Theatre Tuscaloosa, greeted the audience, and in opening remarks asserted that the “arts are transformative and bring quality of life to our community.” The SOL Dance Theatre was able to educate students on racial history through a story told about Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first African-American woman newspaper editor in North America.

“We want to focus on the stories of people who we haven’t heard of and showcase them through performance,” said Rachel Mariah DeLauder, SOL dancer. The story of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, who was born in 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware, was told through choreography that depicted her transformation in becoming a strong woman advocating for equal rights.

Dominic Yeager, director of Arts Management and associate professor in The University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance, expressed his gratitude to the performers. “The arts promote joy, peace, and unity,” said Yeager. “This is what we teach and mentor in our program.” Yeager also encouraged high school seniors to apply to UA and audition for the program.

Students at Hillcrest High School expressed their thoughts about the performance with the dancers in an interactive workshop. Dr. Lynnette Young Overby, artistic director for SOL, discussed how members conducted research about Cary’s life and how she has made an impact on African-American history. The SOL continues to collaborate with guest choreographers, composers and educational organizations to further enhance their productions.

The Realizing the Dream Committee is comprised of Stillman College, Shelton State Community College, the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference and The University of Alabama.

Sharing Our Legacy Dance Theatre to Perform in Tuscaloosa

Sharing Our Legacy is a performing group of undergraduate and graduate students that uses interdisciplinary art to bring powerful stories from the past to audiences of all ages.

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator, Division of Community Affairs

Sharing Our Legacy Dance Theatre (SOL) will perform at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 2 p.m. as part of the ongoing Realizing the Dream performing arts series. The performance is free and open to the public.

SOL is a performing group of undergraduate and graduate students that uses interdisciplinary art to bring powerful stories from the past to audiences of all ages. Created under the Community Engagement Initiative at the University of Delaware, the group is under the artistic direction of Dr. Lynnette Young Overby. SOL members conduct research on African-American history to add meaningful foundations to their performances and work with outside collaborators, such as historical researchers, guest choreographers, composers and artists, as well as educational organizations, to further enhance their productions.

Dr. Byron Abston, Associate Dean for Student Services at Shelton State Community College and a member of the Realizing the Dream Committee, noted that Shelton State has been a proud participant in the Martin Luther King Jr. Realizing the Dream annual celebrations for many years, adding that the partnership has provided many opportunities to learn from one another and share unique talents.

“Given that Shelton State has the distinct honor of being designated as the Alabama Junior College of the Fine Arts, and is home to the Sandra Hall Ray Fine Arts Center, the College has been a natural partner with the Realizing the Dream Committee,” said Abston. “Audiences have benefited from the collaborations with a wide variety of performing artists from all over the country. It has been a great opportunity for our faculty, staff, students and the entire community to experience these educational and cultural performances.”

SOL’s performance in Tuscaloosa will bring attention to Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first African-American woman newspaper editor in North America. The production includes a multidisciplinary presentation of original choreography, music and poetry to portray her life and times. Cary was born in 1823 to a free family in Wilmington, Delaware. After editing the Provincial Freeman in the 1850s, she went on to become the first black woman to enroll in Howard University’s then-new School of Law. Despite her many accomplishments, Cary is relatively unknown.

“There are many untold stories of courageous African Americans who achieved greatness in spite of racial and gender discrimination,” said Overby. “Mary Ann Shadd Cary is one of those people. We are pleased to be able to share the premiere of this arts-based research project, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Her Life and Legacy. We hope the performance will engage and inspire audiences of all ages to learn her story and pass the baton of empowerment to everyone they encounter.”

In addition to their Saturday performance, the group will perform and conduct a workshop for Hillcrest students on Friday, Sept. 13.

“The Tuscaloosa County School System is excited and honored to partner with the Realizing the Dream Committee to bring this performance to our students and to our community,” said Terri Brewer, director of public relations for the Tuscaloosa County School System. “This will provide a wonderful opportunity for our students to experience how the performing arts can convey history and a powerful message.”

Both events are hosted by the Realizing the Dream Committee, comprised of members from Stillman College, Shelton State Community College, the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference and The University of Alabama. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Realizing the Dream Committee exists to raise consciousness about injustice and promote human equality, peace, and social justice by creating educational and cultural opportunities for growth, empowerment, and social change so that every person may experience the bounty of life’s abundant possibilities.

For more information, contact The University of Alabama Division of Community Affairs at or 205-348-8376.

Social Activist Asa Gordon to Present 2019 Realizing the Dream Lecture

Realizing the Dream Distinguished Lecture Series strives to raise consciousness about injustice and promote human equality, peace and social justice.Asa Gordon is the founder and executive director of the Douglass Institute of Government, a Washington, D.C.-based educational think tank.

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator

Tuscaloosa, Alabama — Asa Gordon, founder and executive director of the Douglass Institute of Government, a Washington, D.C.-based educational think tank, the 2019 Realizing the Dream Lecturer, will present, “Realizing the Dream by Honoring the Voting Rights Legacy of the United States Colored Troops,” Tuesday, March 19, at 7 p.m., at the Embassy Suites, 2410 University Boulevard, Tuscaloosa.

In addition to his work with the Douglass Institute, Gordon serves as secretary-general of the Sons & Daughters of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). The organization is chartered by the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation to augment the Foundation’s mission to use the national monument, The Spirit of Freedom (, to honor the historical legacy of those who served in the USCT during the American Civil War.

A retired NASA astrodynamicist, Gordon has been published in international scientific journals and referenced in Ivan Van Sertima’s Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. His research has been employed by private industry, both domestic and abroad, for tracking satellites in space, and he served two terms as president of the Goddard Engineers, Scientists and Technicians Association.

Gordon’s social activism spans from civil actions in regard to democratizing the Electoral College, to constitutional penalty for voter disenfranchisement, to the 14th Amendment right to vote provision, to addressing neo-Confederate culture in American politics. He is chair of the D.C. Statehood Green Party Electoral College Task Force.

In 2016, Gordon received the National Civil Rights Conference Civil Rights and Social Justice Award in recognition of his promotion of the post-Civil War voting rights legacy of the USCT.

This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be available to guests immediately following the lecture. For more information and to let us know that you plan to attend, please RSVP to


The Martin Luther King, Jr. Realizing the Dream Committee exists to raise consciousness about injustice and promote human equality, peace, and social justice by creating educational and cultural opportunities for growth, empowerment, and social change so that every person may experience the bounty of life’s abundant possibilities. The committee is comprised of representatives from Shelton State Community College, Stillman College, The University of Alabama and the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference.


Legacy Awards Banquet Recognizes Three for Servant Leadership

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

On Jan. 18, as part of this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Realizing the Dream celebration, ABC News “Nightline” co-anchor and Emmy award-winning journalist Byron Pitts delivered an inspiring address to an overflow audience in Sellers Auditorium in the Bryant Conference Center.

Since 1990, The University of Alabama has joined Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to celebrate King’s legacy. For the past 11 years this celebration has included the Legacy Awards Banquet, which features a keynote speaker and recognizes three community members who embody the servant leadership of King.

This year’s theme, “Inspiring and Encouraging Others,” was selected to motivate people to look for ways to serve, like King, through brave actions and timeless words.

Pitts transfixed the audience with his life’s story. He credited the faith, love and support of his single mother for his success, despite doctors having diagnosed him as a child as being mentally retarded and as one would never be able to live on his own.

“Long before I was Byron Pitts of ABC ‘Nightline’ and other places I’ve worked, I was a kid from east Baltimore raised by a single parent. My mother had her first child when she was 17 and she had me before she finished high school,” Pitts told an audience of some 500 people. “I didn’t learn to read until I was 12. I spoke with a stutter until I was 20, my junior year in college.”

Recalling how people reached out to him and his family, Pitts challenged the audience to get involved in service to others, especially children in need.

He credits his faith and hard work for being able to overcome these early problems, allowing him, as a network level journalist, to cover three wars, interview seven presidents and travel to 97 countries.

He also stressed the importance of education and service. “Whether you are children of privilege or children of the storm,” he said, “I challenge you as we honor three great men this evening and think about the legacy of Dr. King and all the men and women of that era that you find a way to be of service.”

Following Pitts’ address, the honorees received their awards. Quinvarlio S. Kelly Jr. received the Horizon Award for his all-around community involvement. Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steven D. Anderson received the Call to Conscience Award for helping Tuscaloosa become a safer city by building relationships among the police, teens and the community. The Rev. Charles Steele Jr., who currently serves as SCLC president and CEO, received the Mountaintop Award.

Quinvarlio S. Kelly Jr.
The 2018 graduate of Stillman College is active in his community spiritually, civically and politically and as an advocate for Child Abuse Prevention Services. Kelly focuses on empowerment by recognizing the value of diversity and different perspectives. “Being a student at [Stillman] has really opened my eyes to a lot of things. Schools like these really prepare their students for leadership.” Kelly gave credit to his alma mater for opening his eyes to opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. “We’ve gotten away from the values of respecting each other as individuals, as equal, and it’s something that’s gone on forever.” He promised to be part of a generation that makes sure each person they come in contact with knows they are equal.

Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steven D. Anderson
As a black police chief in Tuscaloosa, Anderson acknowledges being a recipient of the work of civil rights leaders like King and therefore encourages young people by teaching them to value life and take advantage of opportunities. “We have to get back to being civil with one other. I think we have lost our way as far as civility goes,” said Anderson, who has spent his entire police career at the Tuscaloosa Police Department. Anderson said the black community has too many who don’t value education enough. “They don’t place enough value on the things that people of prior generations fought and died for, so that they could have the rights that they currently possess,” he said.

Rev. Charles Steele Jr.
Steele is president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is a former Tuscaloosa city councilman and Alabama state senator. Steele was cited for leadership that has led to community improvements in home ownership by minorities, drug prevention and treatment, and recruitment of new industry to Alabama. “Because of the human aspect of who we are, people are so competitive toward power and discriminatory practices. They always want somebody beneath them. They want somebody to serve them,” said Steele, who urged people to adopt the style of Dr. King — leading by being a servant to others.

For a full transcript of Byron Pitts’ talk, click here.


Transcript of Remarks by Byron Pitts, Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet, January 18, 2019 at The University of Alabama, in Sellers Auditorium, Bryant Conference Center

(Editor’s note: In a speech punctuated by frequent applause, “amens” and other expressions of appreciation, journalist Byron Pitts kept the 2019 Legacy Banquet audience involved throughout. And although he brought some scribbled notes with him to the podium, he referred to them just once. Dr. Edward Mullins, who has introduced every speaker in the series, said, “It was the most inspiring Legacy Banquet speech I’ve heard.”)

I am honored to be here with you all tonight. We are here to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and his dream for all of us — the importance of service. We are here to honor three distinguished members of this community and this is their night. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask if they would stand along with their families. Quinvarlio Kelly is here with his family. Steven Anderson, would you stand with your wonderful family? And Dr. Charles Steele Jr., if he could stand. He’s here with his bride.

As we honor these three champions, these three wonderful men, I think it’s important that we acknowledge their loved ones. Because all of us who’ve achieved any measure of success know you don’t get there by yourself. It takes the support and prayers of a lot of people to get you where you want to be. In my case, it also sometimes required some cussing me out. I would imagine maybe somewhere in some of their pasts there may have been some of those encouraging words for them to move forward.

I won’t keep you long. For the record, you need to know I am Baptist, and so I am more inclined to sit down faster if I hear an “amen” every now and again. If not, then the Pentecostal tradition in me may come out, and I will be here for a while. My family is from the South. I live in New York now, so I am always grateful for opportunities to come back to the South to talk to folk. I am thrilled to be here in this wonderful community. I have to say I am a bit intimidated. Sometimes I talk about my prowess as a football player. I played Division III football. I’m in Tuscaloosa the birthplace of football, so I can’t at all talk about that.

And based on Dr. Mullins’ wonderful introduction, you would think I’m a pretty good speaker. But I’m in Alabama. Some of the greatest orators in American history were born in this state. Some of the most dynamic churches in all of America are in this community. So anything I might say, folk here have heard better just last week. So it’s a little intimidating.

As you know I am a professional journalist. One other observation before I go on. I noticed that when Dr. Mullins said that I had six kids, I heard some grunts from the audience. Six kids, is he Catholic? Six kids? Let the record show I travel a lot, but I get home sometimes. Oh, do we have any veterans in the room? I always like to acknowledge the veterans. Any veterans with us raise your hand. Thank you all for your service.

As a professional journalist for the past 37 years — for the students it just means I am old — and the last 20-plus years at the network level, I have covered three wars. I have interviewed the last seven presidents of the United States — in office or out of office. I have been to 97 countries, and at last count, I have watched 49 people die. I have watched as American service members gave their full measure to our great nation in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. I was in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 when about 2,300 of our fellow citizens died. Their only sin that day was simply showing up for work. I’ve covered two executions. I covered the execution of the man put to death in Virginia in the electric chair about the distance I am from this first table; and I was a witness to the execution of Timothy James McVeigh, a homegrown terrorist raised in a Christian household convicted of killing 168 men, women and children. So in many ways as a journalist I make my living covering death and I’ve made my peace with that.

But something that causes me unease is indifference: when good and decent people blessed with opportunity and access are indifferent to the concerns and needs of people around them, beyond their immediate family. My friends, life has taught me that indifference is a deadly weapon. So, the core of my message to you tonight, and this isn’t a new message, but it is reaffirming what all of us know, certainly what our three honorees know — the importance of service. I think it was Booker T. Washington who said “cast down your bucket where you stand.” All of us, where we stand right now in our space, whether you are a student, whether you are a retiree, wherever you are, you have the capacity right now to change the world, to change the world.

I believe that not just because of the profession I’ve been blessed to have, I believe that because of the life I’ve lived. You see, long before I was Byron Pitts of ABC “Nightline” and other places I’ve worked, I was a kid from east Baltimore, raised by a single parent. My mother had her first child when she was 17, and she had me before she finished high school. I didn’t learn to read until I was 12. I spoke with a stutter until I was 20, my junior year in college.

In elementary school, failing all classes, the school wanted to know: “Why is it that Byron can’t read?” So the school brought me in for a series of tests to try to figure out what the issues were. They called me in with my mom — Clarise Pitts is her name. I will reference her often in my remarks. God called her home about seven years ago, but I wear her cross with me so she is always with me, always present in my life. So, they called me and my mom in to give us these test results.

I’m a father, you heard earlier, and I know there are a number of loving, supportive, kind fathers here this evening with us. God bless them, but there is something special about mothers. Fathers? We will go to soccer practice when we are told. We will show up at a PTA meeting if we have to. But a mama, a loving mama, will kill a brick [do whatever it takes] for their child. So I know there are some brick-killing mamas in the house, and I was blessed with one. So, they call us in to give us the test results. And these are fancy folk, Dr. Mullins, people like you with initials in front of their names and some with initials on the back end of their names. These are important, powerful people — experts. They brought us in and said: “Ms. Pitts, we’ve run this series of tests on your son Byron, and it is our conclusion that your son Byron” — their words not mine — “your son Byron is mentally retarded.” {Gasps from the audience}. That was my mama’s reaction with some other words.

And so my mother said: “Test him again.” They said: “Ms. Pitts, didn’t you just hear what we said?” And she said: “Didn’t you hear what I just said?” My mother, God bless her, was a God-fearing woman. She could quote scripture with almost any minister in this town, but my mother could also have a conversation, a heated conversation, like any Marine you’ve ever met; if you know what I’m saying. So, she said: “Test him again.” And they said, “Okay, fine,” to humor my mother or at least to get us out of the office, “we’ll test him again.” So, they ran the tests again, and a few weeks later they brought us back — me and my mother — and they said: “Ms. Pitts, just as we thought, we ran the tests again and the results were the same. It is our expert opinion” — all of us have heard experts tell us different things in our life — “it is our expert opinion that your son” — their words not mine — “is mentally retarded and lacks the mental capacity to live a normal healthy life, and it is our recommendation, Ms. Pitts,” etc. At the time my mother was a woman of modest means and at that particular time with a 10th grade education raising three kids as a divorcee by herself. Now my mother knew the importance, the transformative power of education, and eventually as an adult learner she would go back — it took her nine years —and got her degree in sociology and spent the bulk of her professional life as a social worker, working with families much like her own.

But in that moment of crisis, she was a woman of limited means and limited education. So they actually said to this undereducated single parent, “Ms. Pitts because you lack the resources to help your child, our recommendation is to place him in an institution, and if not, all that we can recommend is that perhaps if you bring Byron back at 18” — I’m 10-and-a-half at the time — “if you bring him back at 12 perhaps there will be funding in the system.” My mother said: “If I wait till my child is 18 years old, my boy will be dead or in prison. He needs help right now.” But none was available.

But fortunately for me, what my mother lacked in formal education, the old folk would say, she made up with her knowledge of the world. You see, for much of her life my mother wore around her neck a small mustard seed encased in a clear plastic ball and chain around her neck. It was my mother’s daily reminder of the scripture in the book of Matthew that says if you have faith just the size of a mustard seed you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and nothing will be impossible. It is with my mother’s mountain-moving faith that she got me the help I needed and I’ve been able to live my dreams.

I am respectful of where I am. So, I don’t plan on going on talking about my faith, but you invited me here. There’s a popular saying, “Always dance with the one who brung you.” Young people, if you don’t know what that means, go to an older person and they will explain it to you. And so it is the faith that I learned at my mother’s knee that brought me to where I am. As was mentioned in the introduction by Dr. Mullins, I have written two books, my first book was called “Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges.” And so, the title comes from a sermon in my home church, at the time in New Jersey. So those of us who grew up in church, particularly in the black church, you know that next to Christmas and Easter there is no grander holiday than Women’s Day (applause). So, it was Women’s Day at my home church, when sisters show up early, look good, smell better, many have on hats, gloves (laughter), certain generations. So anyway, this particular Women’s Day service we had a visiting minister — a woman, appropriate for Women’s Day.

And so she was giving the message that Sunday. She started talking about manicures, pedicures and women’s sore feet. I thought, my Lord, what time is it because there is nothing in this sermon for the brothers in church this morning. Then she said something that took my breath away. She said: “In those difficult moments — when your Rolodex, your résumé, your 401(k), who you know, your family last name, the amount of property you own — isn’t enough to get you past a difficult moment, for nonbelievers they would say you were stepping out on nothing. But for people of faith, you are stepping to that place where only God is.

And I thought that’s certainly my story, and I would imagine it is the story of many people here this evening. So, I wrote this book “Step Out on Nothing” and certainly a big portion of the book is about my mother and all the sacrifices she made for myself and my brother and sister. Now, not to paint too rosy a picture of my mother; someone asked her once how was she, as a single parent divorcee, how was she able to raise three kids by herself and send herself and her children to college. My mother said: “Oh, it was simple. I told each child you will go to college or I will beat you to death” (laughter). I’d imagine there are a few of us who had similar inspiration in school. Amen somebody? (“Amen!”) So, certainly all of us have examples of a parent, or two parents, or an auntie or uncle or a grandparent who stood in the gap for us. But life has taught me there are people who are not your relatives, who will step out for you.

I had this wonderful professor in college. Before I tell you how I met her, let me tell you a little bit about my academic background. As was mentioned, I didn’t learn to read until I was 12, spoke with a stutter until my junior year in college. I’ve never been a good student. For the record, Doc, I couldn’t have gotten into The University of Alabama. I couldn’t have gotten into the community college here in Tuscaloosa. I just couldn’t. I didn’t have the grades. In fact, I went to an all-boys’ Catholic high school in Baltimore. I like to say I had the best of both worlds — raised Baptist and educated Catholic (light applause). When I give that joke in Boston, people fall out of their chairs. In the South, it’s like … (louder applause).

So, I went to an all-boys’ Catholic high school, Archbishop Curley High School. In my freshman year I was ranked 445th out of 450 students, right. I knew that I had issues, but the brother at 446, 447, 448, my Lord (loud laughter).

My mother used to take us to church revival for three reasons: great childcare, free dinner, and it’s comforting in life to sometimes hear that somebody’s got it worse than you do. So, as bad as I was at 445, I knew there were five guys I was stronger than. But I finished 40th in my class when I graduated. Not the best student, but the best student I could be. And so the best school I could get into was Ohio Wesleyan University. And so, Doc, as I’m sure you see at your university and the professors who are here, oftentimes you will see students when they arrive, who are not fully prepared for the college experience, and that was certainly my case.

Freshman year, fall semester, I failed every class; not some, not most, every class. I failed with great distinction. A D- was as good as I did the first semester. My mother said: “Son, did you study at all?” So, I failed freshman English. Today, I am a professional journalist. Millions of people tune in every night to hear my interpretation of the day’s news. I failed freshman English. Perhaps it helps explain the challenges with journalism in America today (low laughter). That was a joke, y’all (louder laughter).

So, I failed freshman English. I held the record; I may still hold the record at Ohio Wesleyan. I was on academic probation longer than anyone who ever graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University. Now that I am on the board of trustees, today I have a title. So, I go home, my mother was a firm believer as I’m sure many of the parents here and the families that we represent. My mother was a firm believer there was nothing that prayer and hard work couldn’t overcome. My mother said: “Son, we’re just going to work harder and pray harder” (“Amens”). My mother would say: “Son, smart can think their problems away. We’ve got to wrestle ours to the ground. So, we’re going to wrestle this college thing to the ground until we get it right.” So at her direction, I go back to school the second semester in college and I take the same English professor, believing that if I just worked harder, prayed longer, I would do better.

“And this was the classic — if you looked in the dictionary for college professor you would see this guy — he wore suspenders with buttons on them, fancy sweaters year-round, it could be 90 degrees outside, pipe, preferred bowties to ties. You’ve seen the look: beard, glasses. So, I take him for the second semester. And Ohio Wesleyan is a small liberal arts college, about eight to twelve students in a class. So, this professor is passing out the midterms results and he gets to me and announces to the entire class, “Congratulations, Mr. Pitts. Best work thus far: D+. Come see me after.” “Yes sir.” Seventeen years old, raised to respect authority.

I followed him to his office. He said, “Mr. Pitts, don’t sit down. This won’t take long. He said “Mr. Pitts, based on my experience as a tenured” … Doctor, it took him 20 minutes to say tenured …  “a tenured professor, I believe you are wasting my time and the government’s money. I think you should leave.” Again, I was a child raised to respect authority. If an adult spoke, I listened. If they gave a direction, that’s the way I went. So, I left his office and went next door to the admissions office to get the paper to withdraw from college and I began to cry. Now these weren’t Hollywood tears. These were shoulder-shaking, head-bobbing, nose-running tears. Anybody ever cry like that? I mean, I’m crying and I’m crying in part because I would imagine, like a number of people in this room, I was part of the first generation of my family to go to college. And so, if that’s your story, you know both the blessing and burden that can be; because you are carrying not just your hopes and dreams, but those of your family, perhaps the good folk at your church who prayed for you and invested in you. So, in that moment I felt like I was letting them down.

So, I’m crying and about this time a stranger walked by — true story. I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me. She simply said: “Young man, what’s wrong?” She sat down and listened to my sad story for about 20 minutes and she left. And so, when you’re crying the way I was crying, you can’t really hear. So, I didn’t really catch her name and I didn’t really hear where she said her office was, but I found her the next day. Come to find out this stranger was actually a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, and not any professor. She was an English professor, and not any English professor. She was a first-year English professor. It was my first year at Ohio Wesleyan University. It was her first year there as well. Her name was Dr. Ula Lou from Estonia. Ula was born in Estonia, a country ravaged in World War II, first by the Russians, then by the Germans. She spent a good portion of her childhood in refugee camps in Eastern Europe. Eventually the Lutheran Church brought Ula and her family to Boston, Massachusetts. Please know that the Boston, Massachusetts of the early 1950s could be a difficult environment for a blue-eyed, blond-haired, white girl with an accent.

So, Ula knew something about struggle and disappointment and rejection. I like to say that Ula didn’t simply change my life; she saved my life. She stepped out on nothing for me and that is part of the story of the three men we honor tonight, who in the course of achieving things professionally and academically, that they took the time to step out to serve other people.

Life has taught me we can serve no matter where we are. Sometime in life we believe that the service only requires serving someone beneath us or someone less than, but that’s not true. My best friend from college was a guy named Peter Holt form Minnetonka, Minnesota. It’s fair to say, I had never met anyone from Minnetonka, Minnesota, and he had never met anyone from east Baltimore.

So Pete … for students who are here this evening, know that anything that you’re experiencing those of us of a certain age have experienced the same thing; anything you think you’ve gotten away with, trust me, many of us have gotten away with far worse during college. So, my freshman year in college, we would stay up late at night eating cold pizza and drinking our favorite beverage, which for me has always been sweet tea, solving the world’s problems. One night we’re up late and we’re talking; and Pete, from Minnetonka, said: “Yo, Baby Boy.” Now Pete and I were not relatives, but I think Pete thought that’s the way a white dude from Minnesota would talk to a black dude from Baltimore. He said “Baby Boy” with a Minnesota accent, a Minnesota gangster kind of accent. He said “Baby Boy, why do you struggle so with language. You use the wrong words. You stumble a lot when you speak, and I see your face in books. Then I see the test results. So, what’s the problem?” My initial instinct was to slap him, right? Because he was calling me out. Sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear, and so I explained to Pete my issues academically, that I was a poor student because of my issues with literacy. I had only read one book for enjoyment by the time I went to college. When I got to Ohio Wesleyan as a freshman I was reading at about a 10th grade level. So, I explained to Pete my situation. Pete was a botany major. Pete said, “Okay, Baby Boy, here’s what we’re going to do every day for the next four years. I’m going to give you a new word in the dictionary. You’re going to say it, spell it and use it in a sentence. Because when I graduate in four years, you are going to graduate with me.”

I was 17 years old. Pete was 18 years old. He had nothing to give me except access to his brilliant mind. He stepped out on nothing for me as a peer. So, in this room, where y’all look gorgeous by the way, think about the spaces in your life when you can be of service to someone. It could be someone who lives a more modest life than you. It could be a younger person, but it could also be a colleague, a peer, a neighbor, a sibling, and elder who you could step out for and make a difference for them.

As a person who’s in the word business, I know the power of language to lift someone or to injure someone. Growing up in my home church in Baltimore, one of the deacons in our church, James Mack, he used to see me and he’d say, “Hey, son. There are only two kinds of people in the world. There are champs and there are chumps. You look like a champ. So, I’m going to call you champ.” I can’t tell you as a young boy, raised by a single parent, with so few men in my life, what it meant to me to have this man that I respected to call me champ. Language is powerful. It gives each of us the opportunity to lift people around you. As I prepare to take my seat, I want to share with you an example of why I think service is important wherever you stand. If you are a student, you can serve. If you are retired, you can serve. If you are a professional (doing) busy demanding jobs, with a family, you can still serve however you choose to serve. And it’s vital.

Look, if you watch the news, my business, often you would think that America is falling apart. I don’t believe that. My travels around the world have shown me that for all of our many flaws, America is still the greatest country on earth (applause). The promise of America is unlike any place else on earth. We remain the envy of the world. People send their children here to be educated. Part of our DNA as Americans is that we serve, we volunteer. When I went to Haiti after the earthquake where 300,000 people died, some of the first responders were doctors from the United States. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, before FEMA got its act together, it was faith-based organizations, churches, volunteers from across the country, primarily from the South, who got there first to say “How can I serve?” I covered the tsunami in Indonesia where 250,000 people were killed. Some of the first responders there were American. Perhaps it is part of who we are to volunteer, to stand in the gap for other people in need. Certainly, we can do that in grand ways, in big ways. We’ve all heard about the Cajun Navy, in Louisiana, who responded to Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, right? I know this community was faced, not too long ago, with their own natural disaster (EF4 tornado, April 27, 2011) where people lost homes and families lost loved ones. And certainly the police played their role and the federal authorities, but it was community people who rallied around and loved on one another. So service is important. So, plant down your bucket where you stand. Serve. Find a way to serve where you are.

Here’s why it’s so important. I tell you a story about a young woman. She’s a friend of mine. None of you have met her, but all of you know her. So, several years ago, I was speaking to a middle school in Baltimore, a charter school, and usually when I speak to school kids, middle school and high school kids, the questions I usually get is “Do you know Jay Z? Have you ever interviewed Beyoncé? The answer is no I haven’t, no I haven’t. But to this particular school, I am talking about the importance of education. I was talking about the importance of working hard, being optimistic, something that I know all of us in this room value.

And so the kids are lined up afterward to shake my hand. I took some pictures and that kind of thing. You ever been somewhere sometime in public and you know someone is looking at you. It’s just vanity. You are in a public space, but you know someone is looking at you. I felt that. So, as I am done with my remarks and I am talking with kids, this beautiful little girl wanted to make sure she was the last person I spoke with in the crowd. She was about this tall (he gestures). Her name is Pilar. None of you have met her, but all of you know her. Pilar is a beautiful girl with coke-bottle glasses, thin. She said, “Mr. Pitts, thank you so much for coming back to Baltimore, your hometown; and thank you for talking about the importance of education and working hard and the importance of faith. But Mr. Pitts here’s my question. Mr. Pitts when you were my age, when you were 11 years old in Baltimore, where did you go, where did you hide, when the world hurt too much? My friends, no child in the most powerful country on earth should ever ask that question, but we know that they do.

A bit of her back story, she was 11 when I met her. Pilar’s mother was 16 years old, about a year older than my mother when she had my sister. So, when Pilar was 2, her mother, now 18 years old had a choice to make: her new boyfriend or her daughter, and she chose her boyfriend. So, from age 2 until she was about 7, Pilar would sleep on an auntie’s couch, a nice family from church, a teacher who knew her situation, a collection of people who helped take care of this child. At age 7 her fortunes changed a bit. Finally, the family services in Maryland recognize, discover this child in crisis and placed her in foster care. And this isn’t meant to be a criticism of the foster care system. Her foster mom was 81 years old, a diabetic who suffered from almost daily fainting spells. One could make the argument that at age 7, Pilar was as much taking care of this woman as this woman was taking care of this child. Pilar called her mama because as dysfunctional as it was, this is as close as she had to family.

A few years later, Pilar is 10. Her fortunes change again. Perhaps for financial reasons, perhaps because of the size of her heart, Pilar’s now 84-year-old foster mother takes in another child, a 17-year-old boy. His first night there, he wanders into her room and whispers into her ear: “You don’t matter. No one will care. No one will believe you.” She was 10. I met her about a year later. Where do you go and where do you hide when the world hurts too much?

Fortunately, for Pilar, this wonderful spirit that she is, there was a young teacher from the South, first teaching job, saw me talking to her. She said, “What did Pilar want, Mr. Pitts? She doesn’t talk to anybody.” And I shared Pilar’s question with the teacher, who had the same reaction that each of you had. And so she investigated. Eventually they removed the boy from that home. Now Pilar still slept in that same bed for years to come. I am happy to report now years later that Pilar is now a sophomore at Stevenson University in my home state of Maryland doing just fine. When Pilar got to high school, she went to the sister school of the high school I went to. You know, I pulled some strings. Whenever we can we do those kinds of things, we do it for our relatives. We should do it for other people as well.

So, we get Pilar into the school and she can’t participate in the extracurricular activities at the school because her neighborhood is so dangerous it would not be safe for her to go home alone after dark. She couldn’t participate in sports, academic things, the arts. One of my classmates from my high school now owns a limousine service. We arranged, he arranged, to have a Town Car take her home every single night. Just imagine the fellows in her neighborhood who are in the street pharmaceutical business would see this child come home every night in a Lincoln Town Car and go, “Dang! I don’t know who she rolling with, but we’re going to leave her alone.” So, Pilar and I we talk often and the last time I talked to her recently, she was complaining about math in college and I started laughing. She said, “Mr. Pitts why are you laughing. College math is hard.” I said, “Baby it is. It’s supposed to be. But how good is God that at this stage of life math is your biggest problem?”

My friends, I would imagine there are some Pilars in Tuscaloosa. I would imagine there are some children in this community who will fade away to sleep tonight asking that question: “Where do I go. Where do I hide, when the world hurts too much?” And it seems to me people in this room need to be there to answer that question. You know, as a journalist I, forgive me, I judge people. I do. I make snap judgments like that. In part because when you go places as I do for work, like Afghanistan or Iraq or Pakistan, Somalia, I have to look someone in the eye who says “yes sir, it’s safe for you and your team to go down this road. Yes sir, there are no land mines on that road.” So, I have to make snap judgments about people because there have been occasions where my life and the life of my colleagues is at stake. So, I judge people.

When I walked in here this evening, I judged each of you. I did. Now an early observation: You all look good. It’s important. Who was the comedian who said, “It’s better to look good than to feel good?” But after that, I sort of divided you into two groups, if you will. So, it was my assessment, my years as a trained observer as a journalist, I determined that about half the room I will call you all children of privilege. Right, I mean there are some people in this room who are the fourth, fifth, sixth generation in their family to be college-educated. Who have lived comfortable lives their entire life; that when they were born, there was an expectation of achievement. It seems to me that those of you who are children of privilege have a responsibility in this community to find Pilar, that child, that senior, and say, “Look life can be comfortable.”

There is no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed if you live a comfortable life and you’ve been blessed with opportunity your entire life. You can go, you can find Pilar and say, “Baby, life can be comfortable and I’m here to help you because I believe in helping other people.” It is biblical; it is how I was raised. So, children of privilege, you have work to do.

Now the other half of the room, I placed y’all in a different category. I call y’all children of the storm. I’d imagine in this room there are a number of people who were the first in your family to go to college. I imagine there are people in this room who were told countless times “not now, not yet, you’re not good enough, you’re not ready.” I imagine there are some business owners here, bank wouldn’t give you a loan. You had to scratch to grow your business to where it is now. I imagine there are some folk here who did not have the opportunity to go to college, but are finding a way now for their children, their grandchildren to go to college. It seems to me, my friend, that you have the unique responsibility to find the Pilar in your life, to go to her or him and say, “Baby, you can make it, because I’ve made it. I’ve been blessed in my life. Let me share my blessings with you.”

I am where I am not solely because of my hard work, but because people invested in me. That, my friends, is part of Dr. King’s dream, you know. I think about things. I was doing some research earlier that in Alabama the average cost of college statewide in Alabama — I have it written down. I’m a journalist. I believe in facts. — the average cost of college in Alabama is $6,116. Let me give you another number: $14,780. That’s the average cost of prison in Alabama for a year. You can send a kid to college for $6,000, or you can send him to prison for $14,000.

Now I’m not an accountant, but it seems to me for the accountants and the business owners in the room it makes more economic sense to provide education for children. It was Frederick Douglass who said, “It is far easier to raise a strong boy than it is to heal a broken man.” It is far easier to raise a strong boy than it is to heal a broken man.

So, my friends, whether you are children of privilege, or children of the storm, I challenge you in this season as we honor three great men this evening and we think about the legacy of Dr. King and all the men and women of that era, that you find a way to be of service. That you find your Pilar and you hold his or her little face and when they ask “where do you go, where do you hide, when the world hurts too much,” you be the one to say come to me. God bless. Thank you so much.

(Standing ovation.)

Marvin Sapp Brings Songs of Inspiration to 30th Realizing the Dream Concert

By Sophia Xiong
CCBP Volunteer

Pastor Marvin Sapp, award-winning gospel singer and songwriter, brought his inspiring performance to the 2019 Realizing the Dream Concert January 20 in the Moody Music Concert Hall. This was the 30th annual concert as a part of the series to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Student representatives J. Price McGiffert Jr., University of Alabama Student Government Association (SGA) president; Brittney Butler, Shelton State Community College ambassador; and Rose Bryant, Stillman College SGA president, acknowledged Friday night’s Legacy Award winners and introduced Sunday night’s performer.

“Sapp’s lyrics describe a close and personal relationship with God. He puts his conversations with God into prayers and pours out into songs,” said Kelly in his introduction.

With strong drumbeats and fast rhythm, Sapp started the concert by singing his famous “I Came,” which brought rapturous applause from the audience. The audience especially seemed to respond to the lyrics,

“I don’t know what you came here for

(I don’t know what you came here for)

But I came (I came) to praise (to praise)

So help me praise Him!”

Throughout the concert, Sapp shared some of his life’s story with the audience. About coming to The University of Alabama, he said “I’ve been excited for two reasons. First, this is the first time I’ve ever come to The University of Alabama. The other reason is that I’m sort of a resident of Alabama. I own a home outside Huntsville, and I have two daughters who go to Alabama A&M.”

Among the other well-known songs from his repertoire performed by Sapp were “My Testimony,” “The Best in Me,” and “Yes You Can.”

His song, “Never Would Have Made It,” brought the concert to its climax. Having experienced ups and downs in his life, Sapp said he relied on his faith to persevere as he continued to share his peace through his music.

As he sang, “I made it, through my storm and my test, because you were there, to carry me through my mess,” many in the audience were visibly and audibly moved by his lyrics and joined with him in song.

At the end of the concert, in what has become a tradition at the Realizing the Dream concert, members of the audience stood, joined hands and joined Sapp in singing “We Shall Overcome.”


UA Announces 2019 Realizing the Dream Schedule


By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Pastor Marvin Sapp, award-winning Gospel singer and songwriter, will be the featured performer for the 2019 Realizing the Dream Concert Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. at The University of Alabama’s (UA) Moody Music Concert Hall. Journalist and author Byron Pitts, co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” and author of two books, will be the Legacy Awards Banquet speaker. The banquet will take place Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at 6:30 p.m. in the Bryant Conference Center Sellers Auditorium, also on campus.

“Realizing the Dream, Inspiring and Encouraging Others” is the theme for 2019 events celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which are hosted by UA, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Tuscaloosa branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

In addition to delivering musical comfort to his fan base, Sapp, a 10-time Grammy winner, leads Lighthouse Full Life Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his hometown. The recipient of 22 Stellar Awards, two Soul Train Music Awards, two BET Awards, two Dove Awards and eight BMI Songwriter’s Awards, Sapp is renowned for songs such as “Sweeter as the Days Go By,” “Perfect Peace,” “Praise Him in Advance,” “The Best in Me” and “My Testimony,” a dedication to his late wife MaLinda. His 11th album, “Close,” released in 2017, is his most personal album, sharing his faith journey through personal loss.

Pitts is a multiple Emmy award-winning journalist and former chief national correspondent for both ABC and CBS. He won an Emmy as CBS’ lead correspondent during the 9/11 attacks. With more than 20 years’ experience, Pitts has covered the war in Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, the military buildup in Kuwait and the refugee crisis in Kosovo, among others. He is the author of “Step Out on Nothing: How Family and Faith Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges” (2009) and “Be the One: Six True Stories of Teens Overcoming Hardship with Hope” (2017). His accomplishments are all the more impressive when one considers that he had a persistent stutter and was unable to read until the age of 12.

At the Legacy Banquet, Dr. Charles Steele Jr. will receive the Mountaintop Award, Steven D. Anderson will receive the Call to Conscience Award and Quinvarlio S. Kelly Jr. will receive the Horizon Award.

Steele is a two-time president and CEO of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — the first individual in the organization’s history to hold this position twice. A committed civil rights leader, Steele has served on both the Tuscaloosa City Council and in the Alabama State Senate. During his time as a city council member he organized the Unity Day Scholarship Fund and the Tuscaloosa Police Athletic League, as well as secured funds for the purchase of Palmore Park and Barrs’ Quarters (Charles Steele Estates), the first low-income, no down payment home ownership program in West Alabama. He organized the Tuscaloosa Drug Task Force and, after many years of effort, the Partners for a Drug Free Tuscaloosa County. As a state senator he played a key role in recruiting Mercedes-Benz to Tuscaloosa County and was instrumental in locating several other large manufacturers to Greene and Perry Counties. Steele has raised more than $10 million to support civil rights initiatives. He was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in January.

Anderson has served as Tuscaloosa’s police chief since 2008. He is known for his compassion for people, his commitment to equality and his willingness to do the right thing or take the moral high road regardless of the consequences. He earned his criminal justice degree from UA in 1993 and joined the Tuscaloosa Police Department (TPD) as a patrol officer in 1994. He has implemented programs such as the Citizens’ Police Academy, a TPD summer basketball camp and Teens and Police Services — all of which are designed to create strong, lasting, positive relationships between law enforcement officers and members of the community. He established new initiatives within the department aimed at reducing crime and the fear of crime in Tuscaloosa, and has promoted transparency and accountability by instituting the use of body-worn cameras, publishing an annual crime report and facilitating information sharing with the community and media through both traditional means and social media platforms. In addition to his professional role, he has been actively involved in numerous civic and community organizations, including the 100 Black Men of West Alabama, Inc., the Tuscaloosa Community Dancers, the Salvation Army Advisory Board and the Tuscaloosa Latino Coalition.

Kelly, a 2018 graduate of Stillman College, was recently named the first Stillman College Presidential Leadership Fellow. During his undergraduate career, he served in various leadership positions, including Student Government Association president. Kelly serves as a vocalist, instrumentalist and worship leader at the Nineteenth Street Pentecostal Church and at Plum Grove Baptist Church. He also serves as a board member for Child Abuse Prevention Services of Tuscaloosa and as leader of the Tuscaloosa Youth Chapter of the Alabama Democratic Conference. He is a member of the 2019 class of Leadership Tuscaloosa, Phi Beta Lambda business fraternity and 100 Black Men of West Alabama, Inc. Kelly plans to further his education by studying law and communications. Among his passions are education and service, and he hopes to serve in public office, eventually reaching the office of the president of the United States of America.

Realizing the Dream partner the SCLC will sponsor Unity Day activities beginning at 7 a.m. Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, with the Unity Breakfast at Beulah Baptist Church. Rev. Jurrita Williams Louie, associate director of the Center for Missional Outreach and Disaster Response for the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, will be the speaker. The Unity Day march will begin at 11:30 a.m. from the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. The annual Mass Rally will begin at 6 p.m. at First African Baptist Church. The speaker will be Marvin Cherry, senior pastor of Hightown Church of God.

Concert tickets are $20. Legacy Banquet tickets are $30 for individuals or $250 for a table of 10. Dress is semiformal. Tickets for both events will be available online at beginning Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019 at 8 a.m. To purchase tickets in person, please visit the Moody Music Box Office Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019 through Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, from 8 a.m. to noon. For more information, call 205-348-7111 or email

For more information about Realizing the Dream activities and events, visit the website at, or contact Carol Agomo at 205-348-7405 or via email at

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.


Realizing the Dream Performing Arts Series Violinist Tami Lee Hughes Celebrates African-American Artists Throughout American History

By Joon Yea Lee
CCBP Graduate Assistant

On Thursday, August 30, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Realizing the Dream performing arts series took the Tuscaloosa community on an emotional journey celebrating African-American composers and literary artists at the Alabama Power Recital Hall on the Shelton State Community College campus.

The multimedia concert, known as The Legacy Show, is a creation inspired, directed and performed by violinist Tami Lee Hughes, a native of Baton Rouge, La.

Hughes and pianist Byron Burford-Phearse, longtime friends since their college days at the University of Michigan, opened the show with a captivating modern piece, “S.L.I.C.E.,” by composer Chad “Sir Wick” Hughes. Hughes then performed the song “Bingham’s Cotillion” by Francis Johnson accompanied by the poem “The Gift to Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. The performance was presented with a series of photos and drawings from the early 1800s.

Hughes added an educational component to the performance by introducing each composer and poet with historical background and personal stories. For instance, Hughes said that Francis Johnson, born in Pennsylvania, could not perform in the South where racial discrimination was severe in the early 1800s, yet he performed for Queen Victoria to celebrate her ascent to the British throne in 1837.

“I wanted to demonstrate a very broad range of what happened in our history and culture over time,” said Hughes.

As creator and director of the show, Hughes personally chose the songs, poems and photos presented. Seven African-American composers accompanied by six poems by different poets were introduced in the 90-minute performance.

“I chose different artists representing different parts of our history; some are well known while some aren’t,” said Hughes.

Continuing on a historical and cultural journey, Hughes played selections from “Five Violin Solos” by George Morrison. The poem “Harriet Tubman AKA Moses” by poet Samuel W. Allen was read. The mournful tune of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” intensified the emotions stirred by photos and drawings of slaves and young children being whipped.

Attendees held their breath as Hughes continued with songs from the Antebellum Period to the jazzy Harlem Renaissance, from the majestic tunes of the civil rights movement to a modern piece by Kerwin Young that honors women. All the while, Hughes’ performance illustrated the emotions and stories behind each song, poem and era.

“I grew up in Mississippi, so some of the places that were listed in the photos reminded me of where I grew up,” said Dr. Cindy Ann Kilgo, a UA faculty member in the College of Education. “I really liked this immediate connection to the media that was shown on the projector while she was performing. Getting to hear Langston Hughes’ poem and getting to see images while she is playing songs from different time periods, I think for someone like me who studies minoritized college populations, it felt real and we were in the moment. It was like a full experience.”

“We were talking about how much she puts her emotion into her performance and how it embodies the music,” said Keely Latopolski, an academic advisor/coordinator, director of diversity and inclusion in the Culverhouse College of Business. “I really liked how the violin and piano complemented each other and it was really cool to see it all come together, especially with all the different media.”

Rodney Prewitt, a retired education administrator who recently returned to Tuscaloosa, expressed his thanks to the Realizing the Dream Committee for this performance. “I’m very appreciative that there are events like this that are available for anybody,” he said. “I enjoyed the whole performance because it gave a historical experience from beginning to end. For instance, my great-grandparents were slaves and so I can associate with many of the things portrayed in the performance.”

The MLK Realizing the Dream series, hosted by The University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College, Stillman College and the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference, aims to raise consciousness about injustice and promote human equality, peace and social justice by creating educational and cultural opportunities for growth, empowerment and social change.

Judging from audience reaction, this year’s Tami Lee Hughes’ The Legacy Show matched the purpose of the MLK Realizing the Dream series in every sense.

Violinist Tami Lee Hughes to Present ‘The Legacy Show,’ the 2018 Realizing the Dream Performing Arts Event

Tuscaloosa, Alabama — The 2018 Realizing the Dream performing arts event will take place Thursday, Aug. 30, at 6:30 p.m., at the Alabama Power Recital Hall on the Shelton State Community College campus. Violinist Tami Lee Hughes will present “The Legacy Show,” a multimedia educational experience that celebrates the artistic and cultural contributions of African-American composers and musicians, as well as other iconic figures who have influenced our world.

Known for her soul-stirring performances to audiences around the world, Hughes, who has experienced great success as a premier artist, earned a bachelor of music degree from the University of Minnesota and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Michigan. Teachers include Nancy Langham, Jana Burton, Sally O’Reilly, Camilla Wicks and Paul Kantor.

As a soloist, she has appeared with a number of symphony orchestras across the United States, including the National, Monroe, Mississippi and Pontiac-Oakland Symphony Orchestras. She has appeared extensively as recitalist at universities and concert venues in the United States, Europe, Costa Rica and Bermuda, and has performed as solo or chamber artist in the Ann Arbor Chamber Fest, Natchez Festival of Music and Ritz Chamber Players Concert Series. Additionally, she performed a tribute concert to composer Judith Zaimont, which was broadcast on National Public Radio. Other notable appointments include appearances with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra Augusta, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, South Florida Symphony Orchestra, Shippensburg Music Festival Orchestra and the Pro Consorde Chamber Consort. Additional credits include appearances at Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as a member of the acclaimed Sphinx Virtuosi Chamber Ensemble.

The native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is an active teacher and advocate for music outreach. She has taught at the University of Kansas, Marygrove College, Interlochen and the Ann Arbor School for Performing Arts. She enjoys interacting with students of all ages, presenting concerts and serving as guest clinician at institutions across the country.

Hughes now champions diversity on the concert stage, taking audience members on a musical, cultural and historical journey that promises to be an unforgettable evening. This event is free and open to the public. For more information and to let us know that you plan to attend, please RSVP to

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Realizing the Dream Committee exists to raise consciousness about injustice and promote human equality, peace, and social justice by creating educational and cultural opportunities for growth, empowerment, and social change so that every person may experience the bounty of life’s abundant possibilities. The committee is comprised of representatives from Shelton State Community College, Stillman College, The University of Alabama and the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Julissa Arce Gives 2018 Realizing the Dream Lecture


By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Contributor


The Tuscaloosa community gathered at the Embassy Suites Hotel Ballroom on March 27 to engage in dialogue with Julissa Arce, advocate for immigrant rights and education and author of “My (Underground) American Dream.”

The event was part of the Realizing the Dream Distinguished Lecture Series, which celebrates the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hosts for the event are Stillman College, Shelton State Community College, the Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and The University of Alabama.

For Arce, her American Dream began at the age of 11 when she accompanied her parents to the United States by plane from Mexico. They had work visas, but when her visa expired she became undocumented and remained so for the next 15 years.

“If you turn on the news you will hear about immigration every day. You will hear about border security and that in order to have border security we have to build a wall,” Arce told the audience of about 100. “Well I came here on a plane, and so I often think about how high this wall would have to be.”

Arce explained that 40 percent of undocumenteds in the United States never crossed the Mexico-United States border or any border illegally, but came here on a visa that later expired. She realized she was undocumented when she was 14 and anticipating returning to Mexico to celebrate her 15thbirthday with a Quinceañera, which in Latin culture marks the transition from childhood to womanhood with a lavish celebration similar to a wedding.

“My mother told me I couldn’t go to Mexico anymore, because my visa had expired and if I went to Mexico I couldn’t come back,” said Arce, who at the time did not understand the full implications of what it meant to be undocumented. “I went to sleep crying because I wasn’t going to have a party.”

For the next several years she learned to hide and live in the shadows of her parents, who had valid visas, and her little brother, who is a U.S. citizen. Still, she completely bought into the American Dream by working and studying hard and staying out of trouble.

In Texas in high school she excelled academically and athletically, but had few college options because with no social security number, she could not qualify. However, Texas passed a law allowing undocumented residents to attend college and qualify for state financial aid.

At 18 Arce thought, “If I could get my hands on enough financial resources I could become an American.” However, she soon realized that money was not the answer. Citizenship is only open to highly skilled workers, children of parents who are citizens, and spouses of Americans. There was no fee she could pay and no line she could stand in to become a citizen.

Yet, the finance major was undeterred and determined to work on Wall Street, and the summer after her junior year, she was accepted as an intern at Goldman Sachs and 10 weeks later offered a full-time job.

“However, after the initial excitement, the reality set in that it didn’t matter how hard I worked, I was still undocumented. The only choice that I could make was to buy a fake green card and a fake social security card,” she said.  “I don’t say this as a source of pride, because I wish every day that I didn’t have to do that. It would have been so much easier to fill out an application, pay a fine and get my papers the right way.”

Every day for the next several years, she was constantly looking over her shoulder. When her father, who had moved back to Mexico, became ill and died, she could not go to Mexico to see him or attend his funeral, which led her to finally confide in her boyfriend that she was undocumented.

“A few weeks after I told him this, we were sitting in my apartment and he said, ‘Why don’t we get married?’ Don’t propose to your significant other that way,” she said. “It changed my life, but it still took five years and $20,000. We had resources and we were able to hire lawyers who could walk us through the case. However, many people who hire lawyers are defrauded.”

She said after beginning her journey to become a citizen, she realized she needed to do more to help others who were undocumented, which led her to found the Ascend Educational Fund to help other young people in similar circumstances.

“My story has a really great ending. I’m standing before you today. My book has become a Washington Post bestseller and is currently being developed into a television series with America Ferrera” (an American actress and director born in Los Angeles to Honduran parents), Arce said. “That is an amazing ending to this journey that I have been on, but there are still millions of people who are walking in the shoes I walked in for so long and their stories are not any different than mine. They work hard and they stay out of trouble.”

She said anti-immigrant rhetoric has caused people to think of undocumented immigrants as criminals, but that is not the case for the majority of people who come here searching for a better life and their own American Dream.

People tell her all that time she should have been in jail for lack of documentation, she said. “Things could have turned out a different way. Life is not straightforward and people are faced with very difficult choices and decisions.”

After the speech there was a question and answer session and a book signing.

“I am a moderator for a Sustained Dialogue class and I had never had a conversation about immigration,” said Beau Devaul, a senior at UA majoring in finance and economics, who said he was inspired by Arce’s story. “When I think about Dr. King he was about equality for all and I was happy to see that the series is inclusive of everybody.”

Dr. Samory Pruitt, UA’s vice president of community affairs, has been a part of the series since its inception. “I give the committee a lot of credit. They look at the theme we have and try to make sure the speakers enlighten our community on a wide array of social justice themes, not just black and white issues,” Pruitt said.

Marcelle Peters, a UA senior who is president of the University’s National Association of Hispanic Journalists and vice president of the Hispanic-Latino Association, said she first saw Arce on CNN discussing her book. “I though her American dream was particularly inspiring and suggested to the committee we bring her here,” said Peters, a second-generation Mexican-American citizen who will be the first in her family to graduate from college. “When I saw she had written a book and was an executive at Goldman Sachs, I thought we definitely need her to come and speak.”

“I worked with immigration with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby’s office for years,” said Melissia Davis, a Stillman alumna and current member of its Board of Trustees. People looking for that American Dream still have to overcome difficult obstacles, she said.