Category: Realizing the Dream

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 www.uamusic.tix.com 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 community.affairs@ua.edu.

For more information about Realizing the Dream activities and events, visit the website at http://realizingthedream.ua.edu, or contact Carol Agomo at 205-348-7405 or via email at community.affairs@ua.edu.


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 community.affairs@ua.edu.


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.

Danny Glover Shares His Civil Rights Story at Legacy Banquet

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Contributor

For 29 years, The University of Alabama has joined Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and The Tuscaloosa Southern Christian Leadership Conference to bring the Tuscaloosa community inspiring Realizing the Dream events that pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And for the past 10 years, the celebration has included the annual Legacy Banquet, which recognizes individuals whose work keeps alive King’s tradition expressed in this year’s theme Through Service to Others.

“Fifty years ago, having a room like this filled with such a diverse gathering of allies in Tuscaloosa, Ala., would have been nearly impossible,” said Stillman College Vice President and Provost Mark McCormick in his opening remarks. “Nevertheless, discrimination still exists both in overt and covert forms. Discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religious background and political beliefs takes place both out in the open and behind closed doors. We have come a long way, but we have a long way yet to go before Dr. King’s dream is fully realized.”

In addition to honoring three living legends who have worked tirelessly in their service to others, this year’s Legacy Banquet featured a keynote conversation between American actor/director/political activist Danny Glover and Stillman College Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Joseph F. Scrivner.

Glover, 71, grew up in California, the son of parents who were among the first African- Americans to work for the U.S. Postal Service. Before beginning his acting career, Glover also worked as a civil servant community organizer with the Model Cities Program in San Francisco.

In answering questions posed by Scrivner, Glover ranged over many years of civil rights history. He recalled receiving his introduction to the struggle by his parents and acknowledged that his own work in the movement was in many ways a response their involvement.

“I remember watching the Montgomery Bus Boycott on television,” he said. “Television was a new phenomenon at that time. I had the validation of my parents and the way in which they celebrated and embraced the moment as well.”

Glover went on to lead a five-month strike at San Francisco State University during 1968 in an effort to get the school to start a department of black studies (today called Africana Studies).  “We didn’t realize that the Asian American students, the Hispanic American students and the Native American students had their own grievances,” Glover said. “They all joined us, as well as faculty. It shut the campus down for five months. What emerged was the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State. It’s still there and I’m still engaged.”

Glover reviewed his reading of civil rights literature for the audience, especially praising W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 and the works of Ida B. Wells, calling her a “great writer and journalist.”

Glover talked a lot about his family, especially his mother, how much his mom and dad meant to him and his four siblings. “I’m grateful for my mother and father,” he said. He told of his mother graduating from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia in 1942.

He dedicated his role in “Places in the Heart” to his mother. The movie starred Sally Fields and Glover played the role of Mose, a would-be thief turned helpful handyman. Glover told Dr. Ed Mullins, who introduced him, “Places in the Heart” was one of his favorite roles and that working with Sally Fields was a highlight in his career.

Glover told how he had to identify his mother when she was killed in an auto accident the same day he was selected for the role in “Places in the Heart.” He said his mother would have said, “’Lord, if I had to leave, don’t hurt my babies.’ That was her.” His siblings, several of whom were in the wreck, were unhurt.

Glover said his career was part of a journey much larger than he and much bigger than African-Americans. He said King made it clear he was not just trying to save African-Americans but was “trying to save this country’s soul. So when we talk about his legacy, we talked about Dr. King’s legacy … and realizing the dream. It’s about how do we save this country’s soul?”

Videos were shown reflecting the influence of the following individuals for their efforts in advancing the civil rights movement:

UA Junior Marissa Navarro received the Horizon Award for her efforts in founding the first campus Hispanic Latino Association for students, faculty and staff. “Our main focus is to recruit, retain and graduate Hispanic and Latino students,” Navarro said, to make sure they do not get lost on the nearly 40,000-student campus. “Facing racism can have an impact on your self-esteem and academic life. I wanted to provide a space on campus for students like me who came in lost and needed a guide.”

The organization is open to all students who want to learn more about Hispanic and Latino culture and holds events to reduce ethnic stereotypes on campus. “We like to spread knowledge about the difference between Latinos and Hispanics and how different each country is and how not everyone comes from Mexico,” said Navarro, who started the organization with only a few students and has seen It grow dramatically.

The Call to Conscience Award went to UA Professor Ellen G. Spears, author of “Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town.” Spears said she received a first-hand education from civil rights leaders, many of whom were from Alabama and became an environmental researcher to bring an end to the disproportionate amount of toxic waste being dumped in minority communities. “Democracy is under serious threat at the moment. We need to prepare a generation of young people to renew democracy and to take the kinds of things they are learning — things they are studying and reading — out into the world,” Spears said. “We need to prepare students to make a better world, to learn the critical thinking skills to analyze the situation and to then make their own choices about the path forward.”

 

The Rev. Frank Dukes was the recipient of the Mountaintop Award for his efforts in leading the Birmingham Selective Buying Campaign of 1962, while working as director of alumni affairs and public relations at Miles College, his alma mater. At the time, blacks legally could only work labor jobs and blacks and whites could not intermingle in shops and offices. “If we could stop the black people from shopping in downtown Birmingham, we could make Bull Conner understand,” said Dukes, referring to Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, who served as the elected commissioner of public safety for the city of Birmingham and became an international symbol of segregation. “We met with the power structure of white men,” Dukes said. “When we first started to meet with them, they tried to stop us from boycotting.”

After learning that retail stores operated on a 20 percent profit margin and black shoppers accounted for 25 percent of their shoppers, he planned the boycott that had a huge impact on the stores’ bottom lines. However, law continued to prevent stores from hiring black clerks. “If we are ever to have a just society for everybody [it will be] when all people regardless of race, creed or color have a right to justice, freedom and equality,” Dukes said. “Then that will be the ideal society that Jesus Christ would want us to have.”

The event was attended by its largest crowd in the nine years of the event, about 500 people. Attendees included Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox. “We are always striving to be a more perfect union and events like this remind us of our social and moral obligations,” said Maddox, who received the Call to Conscience Award in 2009. Tonight’s event, he said, reminds us we must keep working to solve problems of race and equality.


For a transcript of Mr. Glover and Dr. Scrivner’s keynote conversation, click here.

Mary Mary Entertains, Inspires Sold-Out Moody Music Concert Hall

By Yiben Liu
CCBP Graduate Assistant

Mary Mary, the Gospel recording and Grammy award-winning sister duo of Erica and Tina Campbell, brought high-powered performance and invoked great enthusiasm for faith and music among the audience at the 29th annual Realizing the Dream Concert Sunday, January 14 at the Moody Music Concert Hall. The concert was jointly sponsored by The University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College, and Stillman College. It is one of many events in 2018 in the Tuscaloosa area honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the legendary civil rights leader.

“We are honored to be here,” Erica Campbell said, “We’ve come to honor the legacy of giving your own for the greater good of the people. Because of the sacrifices of others, we all are here tonight.”

Before the concert, UA Student Government Association President Jared Hunter, Shelton State Community College Collegiate 100 President Toya Carter, and Stillman College SGA President Quinvarlio Kelly welcomed the audience and acknowledged Friday night’s Legacy Award winners.

Hunter said the event demonstrated “a yearning for freedom. We are able to look out over this crowd tonight and see that the day has indeed come, when as Dr. King predicted, all of God’s children, black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing.”

Mary Mary and their band ignited the passion of the sold-out audience as soon as they started to play and sing. Applause and whistles filled the two-floor hall. Many in the audience stood, swayed, and sang along with the performers throughout the whole concert.

Erica and Tina Campbell also shared their life stories and how love and faith guided them through difficult times. Moved by their faith and spirit, audience members once again cheered and wildly applauded.

At the end of the concert throughout the music hall, as the tradition goes every year, audience members stood, held hands, and sang what has become the civil rights anthem,“We Shall Overcome,” bringing the concert to its climax.

Many fans attending this year’s concert are repeat attendees, but each year’s event also draws some new spectators. Among those attending for the first time were the Whatley family from Anniston. Brian had known about the concert for many years and brought his wife and sister to this year’s concert. He described the event as “awesome” and said his family “totally loved it. It helps bringing in love, bringing us together,” he said.

“The bonding was beautiful,” said Brian’s sister Erica Whatley.

Community Affairs Vice President Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, whose office makes the arrangements for the Realizing the Dream events each year, commented on the concert and Friday night’s Legacy Banquet featuring actor Danny Glover. “Despite some of the coldest days of the year, people from all over the state of Alabama turned out in record numbers for these two events. As we near thirty years of these performances, interest in our Realizing the Dream celebration continues to grow. This year’s two main events — the Mary Mary concert and Legacy Banquet featuring Danny Glover — were especially representative of this year’s ‘Through Service to Others’ theme.”

Danny Glover: Legacy Banquet Keynote Conversation January 12, 2018

Joseph Scrivner: When someone asked me if I would do this, I said, “Could be, could be not.”

Danny Glover [laughing]: Could be not. As I watched this reel, I thought about my mother, which I often do, my mom and my dad. First let me apologize. I could have worn a suit and tie. But tennis shoes, athletic shoes, felt a little bit more comfortable. I’m not promoting New Balance even though most New Balance shoes are made here in the United States, not overseas. But I remember early in my career, I’d left my job and I worked in community development in city government for six and a half years from June of 1971 till the end of 1977, when I decided that my life was changing and I wanted to try to do something different. I was passionate about the work I did as a community developer with the Model Cities Program and the Office of Community Development, especially with men and women in particular communities, communities that had been disenfranchised, communities that didn’t have a long and stable political history. The way in which they took the moments and began to demonstrate in real life the kind of objectives, the kind of needs and anticipations and possibilities of what could happen in their communities. It was an extraordinary moment in what I call grassroots organic democracy.

And all this emerged simply out of the movements that began long before the civil rights movement, but certainly were nurtured and found their way and development from the movement itself and subsequent movements that came after that. I left the job and I go by my mother’s job. She was a supervisor at the U.S Post Office in San Francisco on Seventh and Mission. I would go by there just to see her extraordinary smile. If you want to understand me, you have to really understand how much my parents meant to me, and meant to all five of us siblings. The first time she saw me was in a community production of “Mice and Men,” and I played a big character, Lenny, in that play. James Earl Jones had played Lenny in New York some time before. So my mother came backstage after the performance. She was looking around surreptitiously and she said: “Son, the people said you can act” (laughing)! So, she had made a survey and listened to what people would say. That’s how precious my mom was. Whenever I would go and see her, and this was like 1979, 1980, I was starving like Marvin. I come up just to see her smile, and she said: “Come on, Danny, I want you to come and meet some of my employees.”

So what happened was she would begin the conversation, “My son Danny, he’s an actor.” And it was if she had a new word in her vocabulary: ACTOR. And then she would say: “Oh, he’s an actor” and just before they could say, “What has he done?” she would say, “Oh, he hasn’t done anything yet, but one day he’s going to do something important.” Only my mother.

I just want to thank Ed (Mullins) for the introduction. When I looked at this, and you look at it from a vantage point Ed mentioned, “Places in the Heart,” and my work in “Places in the Heart” is dedicated to my mother. Unfortunately, the same day I was told I would do the role, my mother died in an automobile accident, that same day. So I got that extraordinary news, and then I had to go and identify her body because my dad was so devastated. So I had to get on a plane, go to Grant, New Mexico, to identify the body and everything else. It’s so typical, because I had three nephews in the back seats, and one brother in the front. No one else got a scratch. Iwas like my mom said: “Lord, if I had to leave, don’t hurt my babies.” That was her. She was the epitome of all that. In that sense, I think a great deal of what I’m about is about my parents. I talked about it, I talked around the table, so much was about my parents, who they were, how I watched them as parents, young adults. And certainly, the things they identified that were important in life were also those things I found myself attached to.

As a child, I remember watching the Montgomery Bus Boycott on television. Television was a new phenomenon. I’m 71 years old, and it was a new phenomenon. In some ways, I was gauging not only my own response to that, but I had the validation of my parents and the way in which they celebrated and embraced the moment as well. They worked at the U.S Post Office in 1948, and they were very much involved, in not only the local but national alliance of postal employees. The demographics had changed in most places, probably here as well, where African-Americans were hired to come to the post office. My dad had been a veteran in the army during World War II and there were certain special considerations for that as well. But all those things kind of defined my early life. And then, a movement happened that found itself engaging not only to veterans.

We talk about Dr. King here today, but Dr. King would talk about the enormous mobilization that occurred around these movements. We must look at the civil rights movements as a continuum of the struggle for justice. From the time the first slaves arrived here, whether through the abolitionist movement [and] the struggle after the emancipation proclamation and the civil war and reconstruction. I think one of the extraordinary books to read is the W.E.B, Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction in America.” It’s an enormous study where it refutes all the various lies they were told about African-Americans’ contribution to reconstruction, the introduction of public education, not only for black children, but all children, for poor white children as well.

So, the civil rights struggle was about Ida B. Wells, the great writer and great journalist who organized an anti-lynching campaign in 1896, the year of Plessy vs. Ferguson. I think of Dr. King as a continuum of that struggle. I was talking to students about when I went to Howard Law School some years ago. They have two floors dedicated for all those classes that graduated from 1896 to 1954.

Plessy vs. Ferguson, Brown vs. Board of Education — so all those kind of things when I felt in my mom, my mom who would always tell us children, part of my moral underpinning, what she said “I’m eternally grateful for my mother and father.” Her mother and father — my grandfather was born in 1892, my grandmother in 1895. They both saw “The Color Purple” and they lived to be 99 years old (applause). And when she said, “I’m eternally grateful for my mother and father. I didn’t pick cotton in September. I went to school in September.” She was grateful because my grandparents made enormous sacrifices to send all three of their children to school in September. Consequently, my mother graduated from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia in 1942. Ironically and so prophetically, her grandmother and my great-grandmother Mary Brown, the family matriarch. She was born in 1853, freed by the emancipation proclamation.

So it is a journey, and I think what has helped me throughout my life and throughout my career is that I’m a part of the journey much larger than me, much bigger than me, and much bigger than just African-Americans, not simply just African-American. When King talked about his work, he said, “I’m not simply in the business of — and I’m paraphrasing — integrating African-Americans. I’m trying to save this country’s soul.” He made that very clear. So when we talk about his legacy, we talked about Dr. King’s legacy, and realizing the dream, is that how do we save this country’s soul (applause).

Every time that I think about the profound wisdom and love, love, when Dr. King talked about the beloved community, with his speeches. I told the students in his speech “Beyond Vietnam.” He uses this from John 4:12, “Nobody’s ever seen God, but if we love each other, God lives in us.”

We got to love. Love is transformative. It’s not how many toys we get, how many trinkets, how much technology, it’s love. And hopefully in future generations that becomes the profound way in which we express real change (applause).

 

Joseph Scrivner: I tried to resist “The Color Purple” references as I thought about tonight. But I remember when “The Color Purple” came out, and I remember some of the backlash, about the presentation of African-American men. Given the issues that Alice Walker dealt with in her novel that are presented in the film, “The Color Purple,” and given more recent events about sexual harassment, the #metoo movement, how do you think those things vindicate what “The Color Purple” tried to deal with, first as a novel and then a movie, which you bravely and courageously play a difficult character to portray and present?

 

Danny Glover: I think, I don’t think that Alice Walker or the film or the book needed any vindication at all. And I would have been really dismayed if there had not been such a vibrant, discourse in communities, in cities. I was in Chicago during the play, right through the midst of that, and everywhere there was a conversation about “The Color of Purple.” I would have been dismayed if there hadn’t been that kind of conversation. Because we have to also deal with the way in which African-Americans are portrayed, from the very beginning, from before films, and everything else through the kind of stereotypical images that we saw around that they represented. But we also deal with that we are human beings too, you know, we are subject to the violence, all the other things. That doesn’t make it become the identity of an entire race. But like anybody else, we are human beings, in a process where every single one of us needs some ways in which we heal with each other. Men, whether they are white, black, Asian, whatever their color, brown, men have issues with women. That’s been historic in some sense, that has been a historical phenomenon. On the one hand, if we evolve and clearly create the path toward building some sort of transformative community, world, country, we are going to have to come to terms with that, absolutely without a doubt.

So in the sense that I felt the conversation was healthy and it was needed and from both vantage points, how the industry itself, the industry which creates identities, the industry which in some sense of uses and perpetuates certain identities at the expense of others as well. And I think at that point in time we needed that kind of discussion about that. Did it exactly change the issue? No. We talked about the violence against black women. The violence against black women goes back to slavery, absolutely. Do we have to do that? What did (James) Baldwin say? “We are not able to live with our truths.” If we cannot live with our truth and our true path, we are trapped in it. So in some sense, in every facet of our history, in our lives, me, as a man of African descent, those of European decent, we have to deal with the truth of our history. We cannot push it aside, I’m surprised, when I read [Douglas A.] Blackmon’s book — Blackmon is from Alabama — “Slavery by Another Name,” I knew that story. I knew the songs, Sam Cook sang the song: “Working on the Chain Gang.” I knew that story. We know where blues come from, and everything as well. We knew those stories. But Blackmon said, “Wait a minute, the narrative that I have been a part of my life growing up in Alabama, there is something wrong with this narrative. Let me do some investigation, let me do some truth seeking.”

And that’s what he did. He did the truth seeking. He said, “Wait, this pattern of criminalizing black men. That’s real!” “Joe Turner’s Come and Cone.” August Wilson’s play. The center of that play is about Herald Loomis, who comes up to Pittsburgh looking for his daughter after he had taken off the street, had not been in contact with his wife and daughter, and cast in some sort of world for seven years in which he was a slave in some sense. So all those kind of things are true parts of history. So what it is? Brian Stevenson is opening in April in Montgomery a lynching museum to talk about the issues of lynchings and violence. And all these are real parts of our history [that we cannot ignore]. The process in different forms continues, and I think that’s all we’ve said and that’s what women are saying right now. So, hopefully, despite that we have had a women’s movement, a women’s liberation movement, and everything else, hopefully, we will understand on so many levels the abuse of power, abuse of gender power in all aspects and those who are most affected and those who are also still victimized by it (applause).

 

Joseph Scrivner: I didn’t know, until I was preparing for this, that you led or participated in a protest at San Francisco State in the sixties as a student, and you were part of a five-month strike until they agreed to have a Black Studies Department. Was that your first real engagement with activism? Was there a moment when you decided you were going to jump in and be a part of it? What do you recall about that, and how has it been a part of your activism since then?

 

Danny Glover: It’s very interesting. I was talking about San Francisco, such a relatively small black population, and they define communities they lived in. I remember there is a place in a community in San Francisco referred to as Harlem West, and that’s in the Fillmore District; it’s a traditionally black community in San Francisco, right adjacent to Japantown, the Japanese community at the same time. So you have these two communities connected to each other. In the forties and fifties, Louis Armstrong was there and Duke Ellington. The Count Basie band played at the Booker T. Washington Hotel because San Francisco had segregated places that black people could stay. So, my first involvement was when I about nineteen or twenty years old. We know about this, we have this period of re-development of these communities, and San Francisco’s housing stock is really pretty old in the sense. A lot of the houses had not been burned down by the 1906 earthquake were Queen Ann’s, Victorian’s Queen Ann’s and Edwardian, built before the turn of the twentieth century and right after the turn of the twentieth century.

So I got involved in that, because what’s so fascinating about the engagement that it was multiracial in that. And I was nineteen or twenty years old. Those were the first meetings I had gone to, going to those meetings and listening to that. What was so amazing was that my dad accompanied me to some of those meetings early on. So we go in and people were trying to say how do we empower ourselves at this moment when we see that we were powerless in what was happening. [So under the leadership of a Japanese American] a lot us went to those meetings at the YMCA and men, women, families, workers came collectively came together in the service of saying “how can we empower ourselves in that moment?” I happened to come out San Francisco State at the moment of extraordinary activism. A number of students had been working in the South, working in Mississippi and Alabama, and everything else. They were migrating back to school and they came to San Francisco. Mario Savio, who started the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley, was part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee down in Mississippi. So they came back and they were activists. So these activists were on campus at the time. They were not only political activists, they were artists as well.

We started a community communication project, which included drama, poetry, dance and music. The idea was how do we engage the community. So that’s the first thing that I was involved in as a student, and the first time I ever stepped up on a stage as well. I had never been on a stage. Anybody told you I was at the church play, they fabricated something. My mom said you couldn’t get me to say two words together at that age. Then in the fall of 1967, we invited Nathan Hare, a professor of history and black studies at Howard University. We invited him out for a year. And we began to develop what we thought should be a Black Studies Program. And all of us, this cadre of men and women that I was around at the time, we read extensively.

By 1970, we were reading poets and artists, talking about all these different kind of artists. We wanted to include all of that. So it wasn’t any African American studies, but also the diaspora studies as well, and the connection between the two. And so we began to develop of that, and we talked to the President [John Henry] Summerskill, who was a liberal, spent time in Africa, president of San Francisco State. We talked with him about how we can manifest these ideas, and it wasn’t approved, so we called the strike in October–November 1968, a student strike. We didn’t realize that Asian-American students, Hispanic-American students, and the Native-American students, had their own grievances, and they all joined the strike, as well as faculty. So basically, it shut the campus down for five months. It wasn’t just African-Americans. So what emerged out of that, in its forty-ninth year, is the School of Ethnic Studies [College of Ethic Studies today] at San Francisco State. It’s still there, and I’m still engaged with it. But it was part of a process that wasn’t just us. I want to make that very clear because sometimes my fellow classmates would talk about “we did this.” I would say “wait, wait, wait, what made this possible was not simply the fact that it was by people of color, and progressive whites as well. What made it possible was that and the fact that we brought the communities in. We had made those strong connections in our communities, whether it was the Latino community, African-American community. So we made those connections. So we had enormous community support behind that. That’s what made it so successful (applause).

 

Joseph Scrivner: I see this connection for you that you are a truth seeker and a truth teller, both as an actor and as an activist. And you co-founded Louverture Films in 2005. How does that grow out of this past that you shared with us, the work you have done. It sounds like that’s a part of your desire to tell the truth, to present these human truths. Tell us more about that work of yours.

 

Danny: I began watching African films in the mid-seventies. A friend of mine had a film festival in San Francisco, Clyde Taylor, retired NYU professor, the Clyde Taylor Film Festival. So we see all these African-American films. I was just amazed by the content of them most happens post decolonization, new independence, and new images in which they saw themselves. So, I began to meet at … especially when I met Mandela in 1986 … I’ve done about seven films on the content of Africa, “Bopha,” “Mandela,” “Boesman and Lena,” which I did with Angela Bassett, “Bàttu,” and “The Children’s Republic,” a movie I did in Mozambique. I did several films and produced some films on Africa. I was on the set of a film when a friend of mine, who is the minister of culture [of Mali] and a wonderful filmmaker Cheick Oumar Sissoko, and he asked me to do a cameo in his film. And I didn’t know that I was going to meet this woman who is just extraordinary, Joslyn Barnes, writer and producer. And if you know about the writing in the twenties, Djuna Barnes, who was her great aunt, had the galleys of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” which is one of the great pieces of literature ever written. She gave it to her great niece and Joslyn said, “I don’t think any human being should own this,” so she donated this in the name of her great aunt to the University of Maryland, where her papers are. We started talking about the Haitian Revolution. I read a book called the “Black Jacobins,” by C.L.R. James, a Marxist historian and one of the great historians of the 20th century. He looks at the Haitian Revolution in relationship to the French Revolution. There are three revolutions that happened in 15 years — 1776, the American revolution; 1789, the French Revolution; and in 1791, the Haitian Revolution, but nobody’s talking about the Haitian Revolution.

And there’s a little bit of history too, because I fancy myself as a historian to some extent. So the Haitians defeat Napoleon’s army in Haiti, led by his brother-in-law [Charles Victoire Emmanuel] Leclerc, in 1803, and by January 1st 1804, they formed their own nation. Napoleon, so desperate for money, sells a piece of land for $13 million dollar, something called the Louisiana Purchase. You never knew why he was doing that, because he was so desperate for money. People never knew about that. It was a gift to this country, because Jefferson was simply interested and fascinated with New Orleans. So they sold the whole thing to them. And because of the revolt of these Haitian slaves, which defeated the largest Armada, the largest group of assembled armies in history till that time and defeated them soundly. I was fascinated by that story and everything else. So when I met Joslyn Barnes, the first day we are on the set in Dakar, Senegal, late at night, all night, shooting a night scene, and that’s all we talked about. That was in 1999 and we haven’t stopped talking since.

We have a film that’s now on the short list for Oscars this year, it’s called “Strong Island.” It’s on Netflix and it’s quite extraordinary. Just last night, at the awards ceremony in New York, it won all the major awards in documentary film awards. It’s by Yance Ford. And we’ve had success with “Soundtrack for a Revolution.” Someone I was just talking to said that their niece worked on the “Soundtrack for a Revolution.” [It’s about] the music of the civil rights movement sung by contemporary artists John Legend, Mary Mary, Richie Havens, and The Blind Boys of Alabama.

We produced a movie that was mentioned about the war on drugs called “The House I Live in” by director Eugene Jarecki, who directed a documentary film called “Why We Fight.” The first time out was a movie called “Bamako,” which is about the Africa debt crisis, a narrative from a brilliant young director from Mali. We produced the film called “Trouble the Water,” which got a nomination for an Oscar about ten years ago and it’s about New Orleans and behind the scenes of what happened with Hurricane Katrina. So those are the kind of works that we produce.

“Toussaint” and the Haitian Revolution is still the film that we want to see done, but in the meantime, we’ve done foreign films as well. We did a film called “White Sun,” which is done by a young director from Nepal. We produced an Argentinian film called “Zama,” which came out this year and looks at pre-colonial period at the end of the 18th century in Argentina. And it has been a platform for a great deal of discussion in Argentina about that period because it’s been done by a really talented filmmaker Lucrecia Martel. And now we want to produce a film about an Adivasi artist. We are looking to do (a film on) Jangarh Singh [Jangarh Singh Shyam, a contemporary artist]. That’s the kind of work that we do.

 

Joseph Scrivner: Thank you. It looks like you focus on stories that are not told often and people don’t really know.

 

Danny Glover: Stories essentially — we’ve done primarily documentaries but we’ve also done narratives as well. Quincy Jones was a big, big force in getting “The Color Purple” done. Oprah was a big force in getting the “Beloved” done. And since you are always trying to figure out what do you want to do, what work do you want to do, and I’ve been fortunate to have Joslyn Barnes to learn and grow from.

 

Joseph Scrivner: I’ve been given the signal that we are about out of time, but I’d like to have one last question for you. I think people have a tendency, with cable television and the Internet, to just sit and become resigned. To shake their heads, what does it mean, what can we do? Given your years of experience in activism, if you could encourage us, briefly, encourage us and tell us to find the thing that we can do to counter whatever negative forces are around us, what would you say to us?

 

Danny Glover: I have had the pleasure to spend about 15 years around someone who died just a few years ago, at 100 years old, in Detroit. Her name is Grace Lee Boggs. She was married to an African-American, she’s Chinese-American, married to an African-American named [James] “Jimmy” Boggs. Jimmy Boggs was from Alabama. He went to Detroit, became active as a union organizer and a progressive. Always thinking about the world and changing the world. So, you have this union of this African-American man and this Chinese-American woman, and they were dynamite. They spent a lot of time around Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, and they would go on to do things together.

And they talked about revolution evolution ­— the process of this is, what time is it on the world’s clock right now? Well, we see this happening not simply in the United States, but around the world. We look at issues of climate change, there are things that we can do and we can fight those things. And [also] global warming — even though we see the manifestations of those in places like Florida, Texas and all over, or a minus 100 wind-chill factor in New Hampshire just last week — we understand that and we have to find something [to do about it].

And they talk also about sustainable activism. If I’m thinking about Dr. King and his own evolution, because the Dr. King we saw on August 28th, 1963, is not the same Dr. King we saw right here working on behalf of sanitation workers, April 4th, 1968. It’s not the same Dr. King. When he received the Nobel Peace Prize, he talked about this being a world house, he uses that platform. When he talks about war, he connects war, race, and materialism — prophetic. This was in 1968, 50 years ago he talked about that.

How do we see ourselves. How can we, in ourselves, in our communities, create transformative relationships — the communities of love, a beloved community, God beloved. How do we create that? How do we work toward that? When you work toward something, you begin to have a vision of what the possibilities are. How do we do that? Those are the kind of things that I think about in terms of telling our communities, whether it’s on a campus or whether it’s in a community.

You know, I live in the city of San Francisco, California. Well, I don’t recognize the city anymore. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood since I was 11years old, 60 years. I’ve made trips here and in New York doing the theater and everything but [only] briefly. But I don’t know what that community looks like, I don’t know what that community is. People have moved out through gentrification, and through the “market” — when does a “market” become a disservice to who we are as human beings? (applause) When does a market become a disservice to who we are?

And the first question in philosophy is what — what does it mean to be a human being? Second question is how do you know. And how you know is by what we do in the service of being a human being. So, I think about that. And listen, we have to do what we know, we have to understand. Baldwin said — and I’m paraphrasing — “if we don’t understand our past, we are trapped, and trapped in it.” And if we don’t realize it — we don’t face the truth — not understand and face the truth through our past, we are trapped in it. And what is that past, what is the truth of our past that leads us to our future?

 

Joseph Scrivner: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Danny Glover (applause).

Attorney Doug Jones: Legacy Banquet Speech January 15, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a real honor tonight to be here with you. I really appreciate all of you being here because before we were coming down, we were watching television news and they announced that the national championship trophy was going to be on display in Tuscaloosa, and you can have your picture made with it at Target.

My lovely wife Louise, who is here with me tonight, looked at me and said, “Oh Lord, nobody’s going to show up.” Which was really her polite way of saying “I’d rather have something else to do in Tuscaloosa tonight.”

I would like to mention one regret that I have tonight is that some dear friends are not able to be here. Many of you may have known Becky and Melford Espy, long time and dear friends of mine. Both passed away a few years ago. Becky taught me social studies in the seventh grade and Mel was a counselor in high school when I was a student, and I owe them a lot, and I miss them and I know if they had been able to be here tonight, they would be here on the front row beaming proudly for someone they helped raised back in Fairfield, Alabama.

I’m also especially glad to be here tonight because you are honoring one of my dear friends and heroes, Bill Baxley. You will hear more about Baxley, but truly in 1970, when I was just 16 and he was only 28 years old, he was elected as Alabama’s Attorney General. I’m absolutely convinced that in 1978 if this state had elected him governor, we would be a far different state today.

I do quickly want to make one correction in your program though, because the program says that Bill was best known for his work in prosecuting the Chambliss case, which was the other 16th Street bombing case. He’s actually known very well for that, but what he’s best known for is something that is connected to the case. You see, when Bill, a great politician when he was in office, used to get all this mail he would answer all this mail. But during the investigation and trial of that case, he got a lot hate mail.

You can imagine in the early 70’s the kind of hate mail that came into his office. One in particular came in from Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Edward R. Fields, who was the National States Rights Party president from Atlanta. Bill showed me a copy of it, and it was awful. I mean, it was a three-page diatribe about how bad an individual Bill Baxley is, called him everything under the sun, including a disgrace to his race for prosecuting these “good white Anglo-Saxon Christian men.” But like all the great politicians, Bill responds to his letters, and this is what he wrote: “My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is — kiss my ass.” True story folks, true story.

Bill and I travel together a lot, talking about the prosecutions of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing cases. I have been fortunate enough not only to travel with Bill, but also to travel throughout the state and country lecturing on those cases and the history behind them. Dr. Mullins and I were talking about this a moment ago. I have always been fascinated to see how important it is for people to learn about what happened in Birmingham in 1963, and how we came to prosecute two former Klansmen almost forty years later.

Folks seem to want to touch a piece of history, which I truly believe is history that is not adequately taught in our schools today. You see, people know the big picture, they know the events, they know about Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. they know and have heard about the Freedom Riders in 1961, they know about the children’s march and in 1963 the fire hoses and the dogs and the stand in the school house door in Tuscaloosa and the march on Washington, and yes, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

But for my legal team, as prosecutors, we had to connect all those events, connect the dots, if you will, to explain why it came to past that the 16th Street Baptist Church was targeted for a Klan bomb, and maybe even children targeted for death. So, let me explain just briefly about that.

In 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision declared that separate schools are unequal schools, and the schools should desegregate with all deliberate speed. I don’t have to tell you the history of the “separate but equal” doctrine in schools in this country. But desegregation didn’t happen with all deliberate speed; it took decades. And in 1957, Fred Shuttlesworth decided to enroll his children in all-black Phillips High School in Birmingham, but he was met with a mob of white people and beaten. He and his wife were both beaten and chased up and down the sidewalks. One of the people in that crowd was an individual named Bobby Cherry. He felt so compelled to violence to stop school desegregation, that he would beat up a man of the cloth, a man of faith, Fred Shuttlesworth.

Then you have the 1961 freedom riders, and Bull Connor allows the Klan to have their way with the freedom riders. Police officers didn’t show up at the Greyhound bus station for some 20 minutes. But because of what happened to the freedom riders, Birmingham business leaders decided to change the form of government. It took them a while to get a change, but all of a sudden in the fall of 1962 the Birmingham city government changed from a three-member commission that included Bull Connor, to a mayor and city council. So they had an election. But at the same time, Reverend Shuttlesworth was in Atlanta talking to Dr. King to come to Birmingham to desegregate the most segregated city in America.

And the children’s marches took place just after the election. Bull Connor lost the mayor’s race but he stayed in the office. When all the marches were settled, and you’ve seen the pictures of the fire hoses and the dogs and the kids streaming out of schools to participate. When that was resolved with modest change to Birmingham, the Klan was not happy. And they responded the the only way the Klan knew how to respond and that was with violence.

A.D. King’s house was bombed shortly thereafter. The Klan was seeing their segregated way of life sliding away and they didn’t like it. In the children’s marches, it wasn’t just the children who were the symbols of the movement, but also the 16th Street Baptist Church, because that’s where they would meet. So now the Klan was unhappy and guess what: The 16th Street Baptist Church and the children were the symbols of the movement. The stand in the school house door made them angrier. They never dreamed that George Wallace would actually step aside. They didn’t know that it was just a charade all staged for his political career. Later that summer, bombs continued to blow up in Birmingham. Arthur Shores’ home was bombed twice.

In August was the “I Have a Dream” speech, and everyone thought that things were looking up.

It was a positive atmosphere, but in Birmingham the desegregation of Birmingham city schools was about to take place. Court ordered the desegregation of Birmingham city schools. Five days before the bombing of the church, young men and women walked into elementary and junior high schools to desegregate the Birmingham schools for the first time. And Birmingham was on edge.

Because so much violence over the years had occurred as a result of school desegregation, I don’t think it was coincidence that five days later the marquee outside the church was advertising a youth worship service that targeted the youth, and the children were coming to that church together again. That’s the weekend that it was targeted for a bombing. So the jury understood it, and the jury got it.

And it’s only by connecting the dots of history that people come to fully understand what was happening in this state and in this country. It’s only by connecting the dots today that we can measure how far we have come as a society, how far we have come to realize Dr. King’s dream that he so eloquently talked about on the mall in Washington.

Now certainly as has been discussed earlier, we had made enormous strides in race relations and equality, in civil rights and in human rights. Legally mandated social, racial segregation in Alabama and the South had been dismantled. The field of education had seen huge improvements. While just under 26 percent of black adults age 25 and older had completed four years of high school in 1964, the percentage had increased to 85 percent by 2012. The number of African-American college undergraduates has increased 10-fold since 1964. Infant mortality in the black community has dropped dramatically, although I think we still have a ways to go in Alabama.

African-Americans have come to occupy positions of power and influence from boardrooms to the State House and the White House. But it’s very easy, and especially at events like this, to talk about how far we have come, to mix and mingle and to pose for pictures and celebrate. We should celebrate, congratulate ourselves on our success. But it’s real easy to never have the conversations that we must have about race in this country, never even trying to connect the dots about what is happening in this state and in this country that is eroding the true fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream.

A few years ago, I was struck by the final passages of an editorial in the Anniston Star following the death of Bobby Frank Cherry, one of the individuals I prosecuted. He’d died in an Alabama prison where he had been in since the conviction. The Star wrote: “Cherry represented the banality of evil in a time when it was more common than we like to admit. It is easy to look back on those times and see the militant racial hatred that consumed him had no place in a civil society then and certainly does not now. It’s much more difficult to confront the shadows of racism and prejudice that surround us in the present. It comes in subtle forms. There is rarely a fuse that gets lit. It’s more of a slow burn. But make no mistake, its flames are just as consuming as those that raged inside Bobby Frank Cherry.”

Like so many Americans, I believed with the election of Barack Obama we had finally moved past so much of our racial divides, not necessarily a completely post-racial world or whatever that term is. But we have really moved beyond having race so prominent in our everyday lives. Not that we have eliminated racism, but that race would not be as dominant a factor as it had been, at least in my lifetime. I remember on a really remarkable occasion on the night of election in 2008 I had gone to the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, which was the site of the beating of Nat King Cole in the fifties. It was the site of the Dixiecrat Convention in 1948, but on that night in November, it was the site of a victory party with the election of Barack Obama. And it was a raucous occasion, to say the least.

And I stayed and I enjoyed it, and it was awesome and as I am leaving, the party is still going on. I walk across a street, and I meet a friend that I had known for a while who’s been around in Alabama politics a long time, Billy Joe Camp. And I talk to Billy Joe, and we talked about that night, how exciting it was, and I say, “Well, I got to go to another party.” As I walked away I turned because it struck me as he also walked toward that party that I was just watching the former press secretary to the late Governor George Wallace going to a victory party for the first black president of the United States.

So, yeah, folks, we have come a long way.

But if there is one thing I have learned from Bill Baxley (and it’s a lot more than that): You kind of just tell things like it is, And unfortunately the election of President Obama appears what I hoped to have been a watershed was simply a high-water mark rather than lasting change, because with his election and since his election we have seen a consistent and disturbing erosion of civil rights in this country. It is everywhere and racial bigotry and prejudice are continuing to rise; you all know it.

As we sit here tonight, you all know it. It’s not necessarily talked about as much as it should be, but it needs to be, and frankly, it is being talked about more. We have economic disparity and the wealth gap is growing. Our schools tend to be more segregated today than they’ve ever been in the last fifty years. Law enforcement and the criminal justice system continue to struggle with racial issues. We have seen it all too often in the last couple of years where unarmed young black men are killed by police. And I’m not trying to dis the police because they do an incredible job, but there’s got to be some change. There’s got to be some change in the way we do things.

The access to the ballot box by minorities is getting harder and harder. Through various state laws, whether it’s voter ID laws or others, access to the most fundamental freedom that we have, the freedom to vote, is being challenged every day, and especially in a state like Alabama where we have a budget crisis and all of a sudden it seems to be used to close the ID-getting places, the Department of Motor Vehicle offices in the Black Belt, where Democratic voters happen to be.

I promised Louise I wouldn’t get too political. If I do she’ll throw a cheesecake at me. And in the case of Shelby County vs. Holder, the Supreme Court of the United States stripped the Voting Rights Act of a critical provision used by the Justice Department to ferret out voting rights abuses before they take effect. And then across college campuses, from one end of the country to the other, minority students are once again finding their voices, rising up to express their concern and frustration with racism that they are experiencing on their campuses.

Right here in Tuscaloosa, one of your honorees tonight, the second African-American to be elected SGA president at the University, has felt compelled to participate in a video to shine a light on the problems that he sees. Now those problems are not being sufficiently taught at the University of Alabama and other places. They’re not happening just in this state, but other places where parents and teachers and ministers are not doing the job of teaching people about justice and truth and reconciliation.

Now, the last thing I need to do tonight is to give you some kind of laundry list of things that have happened in this country over the last few years. You instinctively know what I’m talking about: the erosion of civil rights and the rise of bigotry. What I hope you will do, not just tonight, but every day, is to connect the dots of what you see and hear going on around you, from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery to Washington, D.C. to see what is happening in Alabama and throughout the country, and connect the dots to what you know in your hearts is happening.

I believe that the rhetoric of our political figures fans the flames of bigotry and prejudice. We have seen that history in this state, and sometimes in today’s world, I think they fan those flames even when they don’t intend to. You know, George Wallace never used the “N” word in public but he fanned the flames of hate and bigotry with code words and fear. In those days, the hate was directed toward the black community and the involvement of the federal government. But in part as a result of our ever-growing diversity in this state and country, today’s rhetoric seems to be directed at much broader and much more diverse segments of our population: African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community, Muslims. If you don’t look like them, talk like them, or worship like them, lot of people just hate them, and we’ve got to work on that, we’ve got to do something, and make no mistake: Today’s politicians, in my view, are taking a page from the playbooks of the past, in which leaders continue to resist the growing movement of civil and human rights in the state and in this country.

You remember from your old civic lessons the terms “nullification” and “interposition” used by Southern politicians to attempt to override acts of Congress and the decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Well today, we have a State Chief Justice who believes that his views of morality override decisions of the United States Supreme Court, and he tells probate judges throughout Alabama “just ignore the law, they are wrong, so just ignore them.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is a problem, and if you don’t think that’s a throw-back to the civil rights era, look and compare the two.

In this state, we are in a fiscal crisis; we’ve been that way for couple of years through lot of reasons, and I’m not going to just blame the folks in Montgomery now. This has been building up a long time. But even today we spend thousands, tens of thousands of dollars, on legal fees defending an indefensible immigration bill that was simply attempted to override the constitutional authority of the United States government. Everyone agrees that our immigration system is badly flawed, but when a sponsor of that bill seems to conflate the term “illegals” with the term “Mexicans” we got a problem.

And at this point, there is just not much need for me to go into that hateful rhetoric we are hearing from Donald Trump. Republicans from one end of the country to the other are doing that for me. You’ve heard it and you’ve seen it. But I will say this, I am concerned about one aspect after I hear this from some of the political commentators who were talking about Trump’s rhetoric, and even though they will note the criticism, they then come back and say “Well, Mr. Trump seems to be just tapping in to what so many people believe.” That is true; people believe that way. You see it in the turnout that he has. That’s the sad part, that there are people that actually still believe that and applaud him. You know our political leaders need to lead, our political leaders need to be more like Bill Baxley who took a chance on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing case in the 1970s, who took a chance cleaning up the environment in Birmingham, going against big business in the seventies when it wasn’t popular. Our leaders need to lead. When there are fundamental wrongs in the minds of folks, they need to be the ones to lead the change and translate it into public policy.

Chris Christy, the governor of New Jersey, said at the Republican convention a few years ago, “Leaders should not just follow polls, leaders need to move polls.” I wish Governor Christy, and the others on that stage, would follow his advice. And we need to demand more of our candidates and our elected officials. They need to know that Dr. King’s dream is not just for rich white guys in this country. Dr. King’s dream encompassed everybody of all races, all religions, all ages, all sexual orientations. You name it, it encompassed everybody.

There are a couple of areas specifically that I would like to talk about just briefly that I’m working on that concern me, that I believe are a function of some problems that we’ve got both in race and civil rights and civil justice, areas that I think are desperate for change in which I also believe that there is some opportunity for bipartisan support. The first is with the payday lending practices in the state, outrageous interest rates of over 450 percent in most instances. Think about that, you’ve probably got credit cards, you have loans, you have credit cards that you complain about 20 percent — but 450 percent! That law was changed in 2003 to change the usury laws that allow these people to charge these outrageous rates, make millions of dollars on the backs of the poor and the working class families in the state.

Last year they started keeping some tabs on these loans. In a 10-week period, 450,000 of those loans were taken out by your neighbors in the State of Alabama. Think about that, we are a state of about four million people and 450,000 of those loans were taken out in a ten-week period, and these are not loans for people that are trying to feed a gambling habit, or drug habit, or even for emergencies like their car was broken down or their child was sick. These are loans the studies show that are taken out by people who are just trying to meet everyday expenses. Now, a bill is going to be introduced in the Legislature again — one was introduced last year that never got the light of day — for Alabama to end this practice, to cap the interest rates at around 36 percent, which is still high, but what an improvement if we could do it.

So please contact your state legislators, contact your representatives, ask them to do something positive for the poor and the working-class folks in this state. And when you do, remember this, and we had a program about this at our church in Birmingham at Canterbury the other day. Remember when you are complaining about the payday lenders, remember that there are victims of payday lenders, these people taking out those loans, because think about it: If 450,000 people have to take out those loans to meet everyday expenses, what does that really say about our state and what does it say about the leadership in our state who don’t seem to care as much for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.

I told them the other night, I want to work hard to knock payday lending vultures off, but it’s kind of like picking off that vulture that’s beginning to pick on a wounded rabbit. You can shoot that vulture, but if you walk away from the wounded victim, you’ve really not accomplished an awful lot. So we need to work to make sure we do that.

The second area is in criminal justice reform. Recently, I have been working with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School with about 150 law enforcement leaders and prosecutors from all 50 states, calling for changes in our criminal justice system through an initiative called the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.

Today, the most civilized country in the world has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world prisoners, we spend $80 billion annually to lock people up, and in so many cases it’s simply just not necessary. Unnecessary incarceration hurts our communities in so, so many ways.

Now, let’s make no mistake, I’m all for law and order. I have been a prosecutor at two different times in my life. I defend people, but I’m all about the rule of law and order, but I also know there is just simply a lot of unnecessary incarceration that puts people away and treats them like animals. And when you do that, it hurts the communities by furthering racial disparities. It exacerbates the economic impact in inequality of communities. It fuels recidivism and hinders the economic development in communities that need it the most.

Today, and I know you’ve heard these statistics, today, one in three black men will end up in incarcerated at some point in their life; 60% of prisoners reentering society face long term unemployment. With restricted economic opportunities, criminal activities increase. The Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration have put forth a series of proposals that I hope will be given a good look by law enforcement and state legislators and members of Congress.

I won’t go into all of them, but they are talking about engaging communities, we are talking about alternatives to our arrests, alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, not the violent offenders. And I want to make sure, as I said a minute ago about my history, these 150 folks are not some bleeding hearts here. They are tough on crime law-enforcement officers who have spent their careers in law enforcement and protecting the communities and when you are a foot soldier for law enforcement, you learn a lot about what’s going on the streets, so these are well reasoned. Being tough on crime and being smart on crime are not incompatible.

This morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I saw the news about the rise in the homicides in Tuscaloosa, something that bothers everyone. And when you are trying to talk about reducing crime through changes in the system, it’s hard when you know there are certain statistics out there that seem fly in the face of what you are saying. But I will tell you that studies will show that there is not necessarily the same correlation between locking people up and throwing away the key and reducing the crime. But what I saw this morning, I thought was important. I saw your police chief on the TV, discussing the rise of homicides in Tuscaloosa. But rather than simply giving the tough guy law and order speech, he talked about community involvement, he talked about engagement of the community, and education of both the community and the leaders of this community. That is exactly the type of approach that can have long-term effects and you should be proud of your chief for articulating those in the media.

So, ladies and gentlemen, you know I know our theme is “Realizing the Dream,” and so many dreams have been realized, but we have so, so far to go. For me, I go back to the case that will forever define me. And I think forever defines Bill, because it is more than for us than just simply about history. You know, when a child is killed, scores of other lives are shattered. The loss of those four young girls at the church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the two boys who died later that day from gun fire in Birmingham created a deep crater of remorse in 1963. It woke up the conscience of America, the conscience of the president, the conscience of Congress.

But around that well of grief, something incredible has grown. Lives have been saved and countless more, mine among them, have been enriched. The blast of 16th Street Baptist Church shook us out of a stupor. It was easy to see that things had to change. It was an alarm to warn about the creep of a smothering darkness that only could be repelled by fundamental change in America.

I have learned much from the bombing investigation and trials, from people like Bill, people like Mary Jolley, Cleo, my colleague at Alabama. I’ve learned a lot about my city in Birmingham, my state and my country, the law, our people, good and bad, the dangerous absurdity of racial prejudice and the terrorism facilitated by divisiveness.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was exactly what the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was, an act of terrorism, before that word was really a part of our vocabulary as it is today. In the years since the trials, I have started to realize that we are repeating many of the same mistakes from a half century ago. Sometimes that connection is only evident if you are prepared to look past the mask of dog whistle politics, the posturing of about economics or expose those hiding behind religion and political bluster. At other times, it hits like a sledge hammer, as with the Charleston church shootings in June of 2015.

The Charleston church shootings raised an interesting piece, something I want to share, because as we’ve talked about politicians and their words, we know words have meanings, whether you say it or not, the words have meaning. Well, the symbols have meanings too, and it took the deaths of nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina for people to wake up and realize that the Confederate battle flag has no place in this society.

And I want to show you something real quick. For any of you out there, whoever are talking to someone who said that I don’t necessarily agree with taking down the flag because it’s really a symbol of history, it’s a symbol of Southern heritage. Despite the fact the heritage is Confederate heritage, which seceded from the United States of America, tell them to call me and let me show them this picture, this advertisement from this magazine called the “Thunderbolt.” It was the newspaper of the National States’ Rights party run by Bill’s pen pal friend Ed Fields. On the back, this is in June of 1965, you can see this, an ad where you can order Confederate battle flags. This is 1965 and the ad says, “Fly the Confederate Battle Flag.” The Confederate flag is no longer a sectional emblem. It is now the symbol of the white race and white supremacy. Fly it on on your car and on your house. So folks, this is not new that this has become a symbol of hate, and thank goodness Governor Bentley and others have begun to bring that down.

Despite my instincts as a lawyer, somewhat as of a political junky, to declare that I have the answers for anything, I cannot profess at all to have the absolute remedies for the enormous ills that we see. However, the richest part of those girls who died, the richest part of their gift to me has been an awakening that has connected me to my own personal prejudice, strengths and weaknesses, a very humbling reality check, and now an invigorating journey toward a greater self awareness that might not solve the world’s problems, but hopefully won’t contribute to them.

Indeed, and I told Bill this in our talks, I feel like I have grown more in the last 15 years, than I did in my first 45. Searching for winning solutions to these recurring problems like most everyone else — politicians, street protesters, blog writers, anonymous internet experts, academics — everyone wants to hit a home run or win a national championship. But perhaps it’s more productive to take the long view, exactly the way Coach Sabin and the Tide Football team did recently.

It’s the kind of approach that we took in tackling the four decades-old cold case in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. I longed for the big hit, the one big thing to put everything in order, to put it to rest, but truth and resolution weren’t going to be established that way. The details had to be linked, the dots had to be connected, and the game contested one play at a time with everyone doing their part until the very end.

Power teams like the Crimson Tide realize that excelling at small ball — solid blocking and tackling, accurate pass routes, sticking with your plan — wins the game, not the fluke or the last second heroics. It’s not as sexy, it’s not necessarily going to produce a fair result every time. But just as we have witnessed, it’s an especially useful strategy when the whole team buys into the concept. You are playing for a winning season, not just for the glory of an occasional spectacular victory.

So in considering this unique moment today, considering our unique moment in history, a time when we cannot ignore our past and perhaps tumble backwards toward the abyss, or truly embrace its lessons and take a step away from the lingering dangers, the choice for me is clear, in my personal life, my hopes for this country, my hopes for my family, my children, my grandchildren … my hopes for this country is to play the small ball, get the little things right. And hopefully others, just like everyone in this room, will also join the team. As a team we can win, as a team we can defeat the prejudice that we know is going to exist regardless of what we do. That’s the goal. And at the end of the day, we are all in this together. We are all in this together, and our state is becoming more diverse, and if we don’t remember the lessons of history, we will be doomed to repeat them.

So thank you for allowing me to be here tonight, thank you for this event, for your celebration, and for your courage and for your look forward to recognizing where we are and where we’re headed. Thank you very much.