The annual Keeper of the Dream celebration took place in the Founders Ballroom on Monday, Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. WNBA champion and Hall of Fame athlete Lisa Leslie delivered the keynote speech, asking the recipients and the audience, “Why not me?”
The event opened up with the Confidence Choir, a group of OU students, performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Shortly after, President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz delivered her remarks, calling upon her experiences as a Jewish woman, while also telling a story of her father traveling to Selma to speak at a rally with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“He called on clergy of all faiths to join him in a voting rights demonstration in Selma,” she said. “I recall being a young child. I and my three brothers were frightened to have my father go on a plane to Selma, but my mother said to my father he must go and do his duty to join Dr. King in Selma. She told him to do what was always his duty.”
Pescovitz spoke on the issues surrounding today’s society, such as unemployment, violence, racism, healthcare and the American dream. After she made her remarks, and challenged the audience to ask basic, certain questions about the quality of justice and opportunity.
Before Leslie spoke, Pescovitz and Omar Brown-El, senior director at the Center for Multicultural Initiatives, presented the seven recipients with their awards after introducing them.
The seven award recipients, Zakia Ali-James, Raneen Allos, Isaias Levi Crus, Jennifer Medrano Delacruz, Donovan Hernandez, Maya Ford and Mikal O’Neal were introduced by Brown-El and then had short video clips displayed on the video screens where they discussed their accomplishments and the award.
After the award recipients were honored, Leslie took the stage to discuss King’s vision and how she got to where she is in life today. Leslie has an extensive resume, spanning basketball, movies, television, real estate, broadcasting, modeling and public speaking, but what she focused on the most when she spoke was her faith.
Leslie’s main idea in her speech was the phrase “Why not me?” She discussed overcoming obstacles and witnessing her single mother provide for her and her two siblings during their childhood. Leslie stressed the word “choice,” using it as an acronym.
C.H.O.I.C.E. stood for competence, hard work, integrity, courage and execution.
“Choice is something that has gotten me through a lot of the things that I wanted to do in life, making these choices,” Leslie said. “I think it’s about having and recognizing what my spiritual gift is. My spiritual gift is speaking, that is what God moved me to do. We have to understand how we are supposed to help other people.”
Leslie focused on helping those around you to uplift people in her closing remarks. She delivered a call to action for everyone to help those in need in their communities, making an impact on the world and not sitting on the sideline.
“Help, give back, share information, there is so much we can do,” she said. “It’s the everyday people that have an opportunity to impact the lives of people, we have to recognize the importance of that. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Why not me? Why not me get involved? Why not me give back?'”
After delivering the keynote speech, Leslie took the remaining time to answer questions from the audience as well as meet the Oakland women’s basketball team. The team gave her a custom Oakland jersey with her name on the back and the number nine.
Once questions ended, the award recipients, audience and faculty took to the food court to enjoy a luncheon and receive the opportunity to take a photo with Leslie, kicking off African American Celebration Month 2020.
Upcoming African American Celebration Month events can be found on the OU website.