Dr. Freeman Hrabowski took the Andover community back to 1963 with the words, “You don’t have time to be a victim,” a refrain throughout his Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 16.
Hrabowski, President of University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and a child leader of the Civil Rights Movement, welcomed the community to its twenty-second celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Linda Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) said, “In this time of crisis in public education in the U.S., I thought he would have an incredible message as a college professor who literally turned the culture of a whole school around.”
Khalil Flemming ‘12 and Julianna Aucoin ‘12 introduced the speaker.
In his presentation, Hrabowski narrated personal anecdotes about his experience as an African American during the transitional era.
When Hrabowski was only 12 years old, his parents sent him to watch MLK preach during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. MLK’s speech encouraged Hrabowski to participate in a Civil Rights march, but the police arrested Hrabowski at the protest and thrown in jail for five days.
“When you’ve grown up in a system that says that you can’t go to movies, you can’t drink out of the water fountains, you can’t even go into the bathroom that says, “white only,” you just assume that’s how the world is. And here was this man telling me that this isn’t the way world has to be,” said Hrabowski.
He added that his experience in prison taught him to “see the world as it is and dream that it can be much better.”
Hrabowski told the audience another story of a student at UMBC of his who wanted to major in Russian literature. Because the student was fluent in Russian, Hrabowski assumed that he had received a high-level education and must have been of the middle-class.
Despite Hrabowski’s preconceptions, he learned that the student’s parents had eft him at a young age due to a drug addiction when he was thirteen and has since been own his own. Hrabowski asked him, “How do you keep going?”
Hrabowski said his student responded, “I felt like I was nothing, but my teachers told me I was smart, and that if I studied hard, I’d be okay. The more I studied, the more I understood about poverty, the more I understood about drugs, the more I could put my life into perspective.”
Hrabowski continued his student’s story, saying his student told him “I decided to study Russian culture because I wanted to forget everything about America, just because it was so painful. I wanted to see how poor people in Russia lived. I went there, it was an incredible experience and now I love my country, because I can also look at perspectives.”
Throughout his speech, Hrabowski reflecting on the meaning of MLK day. “It is wonderful that we are celebrating a wonderful human being, but it is the set of values that focus on respecting other approaches, listening to others’ opinions and being concerned about those who are less fortunate,” he said, emphasizing MLK day is a celebration of values and empathetic reasoning as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.
Following his speech, the students had the opportunity to ask Hrabowski questions.
In response to a question about affirmative action, Hrabowski said that a better question is how to ensure “inclusive excellence” in American universities.
He added, “What do I mean by [inclusive excellence]? America has to find a way that is fair to all of its citizens to ensure that every group can excel. Not just in science, but in law, in education, in social work… [It’s] an emphasis on being fair to all groups because we’re all American and on inspiring children to want to be the best.”
Matt Lloyd-Thomas ’12 enjoyed the MLK assembly. “It was very much in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and the MLK Day as a whole. It wasn’t about the divisions, it wasn’t about the differences, it was about recognizing those differences and moving beyond them to discuss our similarities. He talked about how moving forward can ensure unity and I think, most importantly, recognize our common humanity,” he said.
Uday Singh ’12 said that he agreed with Hrabowski’s claim that education is necessary to improve society as a whole.
Griffith said, “I thought [Dr. Hrabowski] was fabulous. He was inspirational. He was a role model. Dr. Hrabowski appeals to the intellect, he appeals to the heart for feelings, and therefore, it changes your actions. He embodies that and that’s the message I feel he got across today.”