Kweisi Mfume to speak at Kent State University’s annual MLK event

Daniel Moore

Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume will address students, faculty and staff tomorrow on the topic of “Empowering the Individual, Strengthening the Community.”

This is the theme for the ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which will be held in the Kent Student Center at 1 p.m.

“We are the sum of our experiences, and I’m not an exception to that,” said Mfume, who was selected to speak by the MLK Committee. “All that I’ve gone through and been a part of gives me a perspective on that theme.”

The first part of the event will take place in the Kiva, featuring dance, music and spoken word performances. At 2:10 p.m. the festivities will be moved to the Kent Student Center Ballroom, where President Lester Lefton will make remarks before Mfume speaks.

“I think his message is going to bring an understanding into the life of Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Geraldine Hayes-Nelson, the assistant vice president for Pipeline Initiatives and Diversity Programming.

Mfume served on Baltimore City Council from 1978 to 1986, when he was elected to Congress. During five terms as a Democrat from Maryland, he served on the Banking and Financial Services, Education, Small Business and Ethics committees and chaired the Congressional Black Caucus, according to a Kent State press release.

He became the 15th president and CEO of the NAACP in 1996, serving until he resigned in late 2004 to pursue other interests.

Mfume said he decided to come to Kent State because of his “sense of respect for the student movement.” He also said he has the May 4 tragedy in the back of his head.

“It (Kent State) has always been special to me,” Mfume said. “All over the nation, that (May 4) affected all of us, because we knew it could’ve easily been us.”

He is not a pessimist about the next generation, he said, and will urge older listeners of his speech to inspire young people even though they “don’t understand” their dress, music and way of life.

“Just as people inspired my generation to do more, that’s the role of older people in this society,” he said. “You have to trust and believe that the next generation has the right values.”

Mfume also has advice for how the city and university can work together. He said the town needs to see the “student population as an asset, not a liability.”

“The town benefits from the presence of a university — a group of well-trained young people who come from diverse backgrounds who have a new way of looking at life,” he said.

Nelson said Mfume’s experiences with the NAACP and his role in government will bring people together.

“We wanted somebody who would resonate with the faculty, staff and student,” Nelson said.

Mfume said he doesn’t want to tell students what to do but wants to make sure they do something.

“I don’t know I necessarily inspire people,” Mfume said. “But I know what hard work and attention to detail bring. This isn’t a pie in the sky. It’s a formula that has worked for years.”

Contact Daniel Moore at [email protected].