Today, we were reminded that work remains to be done to make this the country Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned in his “I Have a Dream Speech.” Bearing this in mind, Oakland University honored several students who are working toward that goal by promoting interracial understanding and goodwill through their “Keeper of the Dream” scholarship.
Academy-Award winning Actor and Activist Louis Gossett Jr. was the keynote speaker for a very engaging and entertaining session.
Scholarships were handed out to four remarkable people Emily Tissot, Se Min “Gerard” Son, Rodrina Moore and Aiana Scott.
Emily Tissot is pursuing a dual bachelors degree, and “has gone above and beyond to find opportunities to volunteer both locally and globally,” according to David Tindall, assistant director for residence life at Oakland University. Among her many civic-minded and academic accomplishments, she taught language and health skills in Mexico, Peru and the Dominican Republic.
Se Min “Gerald” Son is a tireless volunteer with international students at the university. He originally emigrated from the Republic of Korea, and is described by Krista Malley, director of the Academic Skills Center, “as someone who has a gift of making other people feel welcomed and appreciated, whether in the community or here at Oakland University’s campus. [He] genuinely wants others to succeed in life.”
Rodrina Moore, another scholarship winner, is seen as a “Champion of others,” according to Claude Huddleston, manager of University Student Apartments. Moore has worked in both initiatives to make the OU campus more inclusive but also more environmentally sustainable. She also organized a Haiti relief effort.
Last but not least, Aiana Scott has been working a great deal with students who have disabilities. She’s the president of STUD (Students Toward Understanding Disabilities) as well as volunteers for various causes. “Aiana is an excellent example of a student who is very involved on campus and reaches out to those in the OU community and beyond who need assistance,” said Carmen Etienne, academic adviser in the School of Engineering and Computer Science.
After the awards were handed out, Gossett took us all on a journey of his life. He told stories from growing up in a very diverse Brooklyn neighborhood, to his debut on Broadway where his family (some of whom were once slaves) were able to see him perform, as well as the racism and challenges he confronted later in his career.
The main theme of the presentation was we all need to work together. “We should work together to raise our children, whether they are our own or not.” Gossett went on to talk about the idea that we need to work together to stop the violence, to teach understanding, and to make our neighborhoods safe again.
We have, in his opinion, “Broken the generational connection.” He believes the community needs to do more mentoring and get more involved in children’s lives. “There are children who are ending up in prison,” he explains, “but they don’t know what for, because they were never mentored or raised properly.”
Another point Gossett touched on was humility and importance of focus. Having met Nelson Mandela and Dr. King, he said that the most considerable similarity between them, indeed, was the fact that “they were both humble and focused. You have to be focused to go through what they did and come out smiling.” He reinforced that idea with the point that in today’s pop culture that focuses on flashy cars and accessories, one wonders if humility is lost and, in the pursuit of a more just social structure, he obviously believes it’s an important trait to have.
There is a lesson in this as we celebrate Martin Luther King day. The lesson is that it is important to heed his words and actually roll up our sleeves and get into it. There are so many places to plug in and get involved. For example, Blightbusters is tearing down derelict houses to rebuild neighborhoods piece by piece. Forgotten Harvest is feeding those who need it, and groups like Detroit 300 are doing neighborhood patrols more often than just the oft-talked about Angel’s night.
These are just a few opportunities to volunteer. So here’s my challenge to you — look up a group that does work in an area you’re interested in. It is one of the best ways to honor Dr. King’s legacy.