Keeper of the Dream kicks off African American celebration

People lined the walls and filled the seats in the banquet room to hear Susan L. Taylor’s speech at the Keeper of the Dream celebration Monday.

Taylor worked for almost 30 years as an editor at “Essence” magazine, and has received numerous accolades from the magazine industry and civil rights groups. She also started the National CARES mentoring organization.

Taylor covered a wide array of topics relating to racial injustice, community service, and the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Let me first say that you young sisters have taken my breath away,” Taylor said to a round of applause.

Taylor first addressed a question she has had posed to her many times: “What would you do if you had met Dr. King?” She said the first thing she would’ve done was drop everything she was doing and simply carry his briefcase.

“The second thing I would do is apologize. I would apologize because my generation dropped the baton,” Taylor said. She expressed her remorse that her generation didn’t follow up on the legacy of the Montgomery bus boycotts.

Taylor discussed King’s life from his beginnings as a student up until the final days of his Civil Rights marches.

“When he really started understanding the suffering in the world, that’s when he put his behind in the chair and became a scholar,” Taylor said.

But Taylor said that King had doubts that he could continue his efforts when he feared that death threats would truly put his family in jeopardy, though in the end he resolved not to turn his back on the movement.

“It’s the troubled times that make you look inside yourself,” Taylor said.

She related the issue of racial inequality to the situation in Haiti.

She expressed the need to fix the problem of poverty by first fixing public education, and the need to stop “verbal violence” among people. Taylor also made a case for community service, and asked people to simply help those around them.

“What really makes you happy at the end of the day is knowing you used your breath to help others,” she said.

She made a plea for getting more black mentors for young men and women, saying that there is a disproportionate number of white mentors.

Each of the award recipients were able to talk about their achievements in multicultural understanding and what winning the award means to her in prerecorded speeches that were played as they accepted the awards.

Chelsea Grimmer explained about her work with Beyond Basics getting OU students to volunteer at elementary schools. She talked about working in a school in Detroit which is 99 percent African American and receives less funding than other schools due to scoring lower on MEAP testing.

“Vision, compassion and faith are still necessary in fighting this injustice and working towards a better understanding and equality for all people,” Grimmer said.

She said her experience proves that Dr. King’s dream is still important even today.

Juquatta Brewer co-created the ELITE organization, which stands for Encouraging Ladies by Inspiring Them to be Empowered.

She talked about her work as a Resident Assistant in the residence halls, and how it has allowed her to learn about different cultures.

“I focused on our similarities instead of our differences,” Brewer said. “Doctor King’s dream continues to encourage people to overcome their racial differences.”

Mellissa DeGrandis has served as a senior RA in the residence halls, a peer mentor, and an orientation group leader.

“(This award) means that I have grown and pushed beyond my comfort zone, and I have stood out as a driven leader who made a change in my own life,”  DeGrandis said.

“I believe Dr. King’s dream of equality is still relevant today, and some of it has come true,” DeGrandis said.

Each of the recipients expressed their gratitude to OU and the Keeper of the Dream committee for recognizing her.

Grimmer later said that winning this award and hearing Taylor speak has given her further inspiration to get students involved with Beyond Basics.

She hopes that they can work in the future in collaboration with Taylor’s National CARES organization.

The Keeper of the Dream celebration kicks off OU’s African American Celebration 2010, as well as black history month. Upcoming events include documentary screenings and public lectures throughout February.