Speakers discuss heroes, hopes

Alexia Harris

Click to see a video courtesy of TV2

“You are the leaders that you have been looking for.”

This was the message behind “Living the Covenant,” a speech given by Tavis Smiley, author and public broadcasting host and Princeton University professor Cornel West.

The Student Center Ballroom was filled to capacity Saturday night as people from across Northeast Ohio gathered to hear Smiley and West speak words of inspiration.

“I saw Smiley and West last year when they did their panel on C-SPAN, and it made me want to bring them to Kent,” said Carla Smith, Black United Students programmer.

Eddie Glaude Jr. was also scheduled to appear, but had a personal emergency.

BUS, the Center for Student Involvement Leadership Development Series and the All Campus Programming Board co-sponsored the event.

BUS president Sasha Parker said the aim was for the audience to realize the information presented was a blueprint not only for black America, but for all of America.

Smiley told the audience it was a blessing to be at Kent State for the first time.

“There are few places that we go to for the first time that has such a rich history,” Smiley said.

He said leaders must ask themselves two questions: What is the depth of your love, and what is the quality of your service?

“If you can’t answer those two questions, you are just a leading black, not a black leader, and that is not going to get us where we need to be,” he said.

For the past eight years, Smiley has been the moderator for C-SPAN’s annual State of the Black Union conference.

Smiley said it was necessary to host such a conference because so much is left out of the president’s State of the Union address.

“How does the president stand in front of the country and not mention (Hurricane) Katrina, Gulf Coast or people trying to put their lives back together?” he asked.

Smiley and West were scheduled to be on tour promoting the book, The Covenant in Action, but instead of canceling their appearance at Kent State, they decided to bring the book tour to campus.

The first book, The Covenant with Black America, addresses the top 10 issues of importance to blacks, such as health care and education. It was also the first nonfiction book written and published by blacks to get on the New York Times bestseller list and reach number one.

“We shattered the myth (that) if you want to want to keep something from blacks, put it in a book,” he said.

Smiley said the book is an example of what blacks can do when they work together.

“When you make black America better, you make America better,” he said.

Smiley asked the audience where their courage, conviction and commitment lies.

He said Harriet Tubman, who was less than 5 feet tall, had courage when she led 7-foot men to freedom, and when it comes to conviction, he thinks of Muhammad Ali.

Smiley said Ali refused to fight in Vietnam because he felt the United States had done more wrong to black people than the Vietnamese.

As a result, Ali was stripped of his title and could not fight for five years.

“That’s conviction,” Smiley said.

Smiley said he wants young people to know they are living a life and leaving a legacy.

He suggested the audience write their eulogies and live up to what they wrote.

“Most people don’t want to be honest because they are scared to get in trouble or be like Martin (Luther King Jr.) and get shot down,” West said.

Smiley said the country needs more leaders who are willing to tell the truth.

West said people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers did not die so people can be successful and live like peacocks; they wanted people to have self-respect and dignity, too.

Preston Mitchum, junior political science major, called the program inspirational and said it reaffirmed his purpose as a student leader. Mitchum is the academic affairs senator for Undergraduate Student Senate.

“This was the best way I’ve ever seen Kent State spend student dollars,” he said.

But Parker wonders how the Allocation Committee feels because they denied the request for the program.

“They said it wasn’t a valued program, but look at the turnout and number of people inspired,” she said.

Toward the end of his speech, Smiley reminded audience members to think about the importance of black history and what they are doing to make history.

“We celebrate black history today because of what someone did yesterday, but if we don’t do anything today, there won’t be anything to celebrate tomorrow,” Smiley said. “It’s time for us to pick up the pace.”

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Alexia Harris at [email protected].