RIT held its 2016 Expressions of King’s Legacy celebration on Jan. 28 and welcomed Civil Rights activist and former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young as keynote speaker. He spent the morning before the event with undergraduates in the history class, The Sin of Racism. The course, co-taught by Kevin McDonald, vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion, and Michael Laver, associate professor of history, gave a historical context to racism in America. Young brought a firsthand account to the class of his relationship to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the significant events of the Civil Rights Movement both men were involved in during the 1960s.
Expressions of King’s Legacy: Meeting Andrew Young
By Tempest Sampson, second-year sociology major in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts
Life affirming. That is how I would describe my experience meeting former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young.
As an aspiring educator and “social engineer,” I found myself having many questions for Mr. Young, but of course I was unable to immediately articulate them when called on to speak. Being in the presence of one who helped to lay the foundation for racial equality in society was surreal. However, I was immediately relaxed by Mr. Young’s candid and familial nature.
He shared many of his personal experiences, specifically reflecting on his childhood. The most memorable anecdotes that he shared were those of his father and grandmother. From reading the newspaper and the Bible to his blind grandmother to the friendly greetings he was expected to give whenever he entered his father’s dentistry, Andrew Young’s life was set for ministry and diplomacy through the love of and interaction with people.
One of the most important things I took from speaking with Mr. Young was his emphasis of getting a good education—not just a degree. As an undergraduate student with doctoral aspirations, I realize that this time in my life is critical. Having that word of advice will stay with me for the rest of my collegiate career and life as I choose classes and experiences that will shape my perspective of the world.
During his talk with the rest of the campus, he discussed the state of the country and the world and reminded us all that without all the challenges that we face, life would be quite boring and to consider “life as a challenging opportunity.” By turning these “stumbling blocks into stepping-stones,” we can grow internally and help the world externally. Mr. Young’s experience as a civil rights activist and a U.S. Ambassador to the UN and his successes in both of those capacities validated his every word.
The last thing that will stay with me is his charge of sorts: “The one thing we cannot afford to do is nothing.” This reaffirms my desire to put my hands in any and everything that can make a positive change in my community – the City of Rochester — and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity to not only hear Mr. Andrew Young speak at the Expressions of King’s Legacy program but also to meet and speak with him during my one of my classes.
The Expressions of King’s Legacy programs are more than the keynote presentations. And as astounding as these are, it is the connections that the speakers bring to our students and community that remind us that if we are to be equitable to all people, it will start with interacting one-to-one. Over the past several years, our students have had the chance to meet Soledad O’Brien and Cornel West. Students such as Tianna Manon have been on community panels with some of Rochester’s influential leaders while Tavis Smiley moderated a panel about the 1965 race riots in our town. They are only a few of the people that have a big reach across the country, but have reached within RIT’s community to share insights about the importance of embracing diversity and inclusion. You’re welcome to share your Expressions memories here or with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion team; they are planning for their 2017 event, the 35th year of the program on campus.
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