NPR correspondent talks about change in America

Maria Nann

Juan Williams says dropout rates would make MLK cry

James Gaudino, dean of the College of Communications and Information, called him “the most recognizable voice in the country.”

President Lester Lefton referred to him as “a distinguished and sometimes controversial guest speaker.”

When Juan Williams spoke yesterday at the Kiva, he said he was “thrilled to be here.”

The senior NPR correspondent, whose lecture was titled “The Changing Face of America,” discussed a topic that has been increasingly important as the November presidential election draws closer – change.

“Much of the discontentment in America,” Williams said, “is a sense of displacement. We want to have a sense of command over our lives and our futures.”

Williams, who is also a political analyst for Fox Television and a regular panelist on “Fox News Sunday,” discussed not only the political change presidential candidates have reiterated throughout the primary season, but also the changes America has seen socially and economically.

“We have to be in touch with this as a transformative moment in American history,” he said.

Much of the changes America has seen over the years, Williams said, have to do with immigration.

“Demographers no longer talk about the great American melting pot,” he said. “We are now a salad bowl. (It’s) all part of a transformation moment in American identity.

“We have to know who we are to be effective in terms of people who can handle social change.”

Williams also touched on issues of race, poverty and dropout rates, asking the audience to imagine a 79-year-old man walking into the auditorium where he was speaking, claiming to be Martin Luther King, Jr.

“He asks you, ‘Please, tell me what has been going on the past 40 years?’ What would you say?” Williams asked.

America has a black man and a white woman running for president, he said, but it also has a poverty rate of 12 percent and a high school dropout rate of 50 percent among black and Hispanic boys.

It would be enough, he said, to make Dr. King cry.

“The goal,” he said, “should really be about creating change, anticipating change.

“There is a need for all of us to be alive. In that moment when you realize there’s history being made, you realize there are people 40 years from now making judgments on how we handled history that is happening now.”

Contact news correspondent Maria Nann at [email protected].