Video by Kaitlyn Connolly, CTV 11
In 1963, 12-year-old Freeman Hrabowski sat reluctantly in the back of a church in Birmingham, Alabama.
His parents made him go, but he didn’t pay attention. He sat working on math problems and snacking on peanut M&M’s. While Hrabowski worked, a man spoke to the crowd gathered in the church.
“If the children participate in this peaceful march, all of America will understand that even our babies, even our kids want a good education,” the man said.
Hearing Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, Hrabowski looked up. Although Hrabowski thought he was as smart as anyone else, the color of his skin made others think differently. King’s words made Hrabowski urge his parents to let him participate in the march that would eventually help define the Civil Rights movement.
As a child, Hrabowski was arrested and went to jail to help a cause he believed in. Today, Hrabowski is the president of Maryland State University in Baltimore County and a national leader in higher education. Wednesday night, Hrabowski told his story and also spoke about issues of diversity at the keynote address for the 14th Colorado State University Diversity Symposium.
“Tonight we are honored to have someone here to speak to us who represents a remarkable success story,” said CSU President Tony Frank.
Each year, the symposium takes on a different subject area of diversity. This year the topic was diversity trends in higher education. Hrabowski, who has been a university president since 1992, has committed a substantial amount of his time researching science and math education, with an emphasis on minority participation and performance.
During his time as an educator he has come to use the phrase “inclusive excellence” when discussing issues of diversity.
“Inclusive excellence should have everything to do with allowing people to be the best that they can be, should allow people to be themselves, should allow us to respect the differences but then to see the points of commonality in all of us,” Hrabowski said.
As Hrabowski, addressed the crowd of CSU students and community members, he told them that most people their age in the world are not as lucky as them.
“You are some of the most privileged human beings on the face of the earth, and I don’t think you thought about what that means,” Hrabowski said, adding that students are the ones most likely to lead in this country.
After the speech concluded, sophomore health and exercise science major Yohana Tuquabo said she thought Hrabowski did an amazing job.
“I was beyond stoked that CSU was able to bring him out here,” Tuquabo said. “Being an African American student on this campus definitely gave perspective.”
According to Tuquabo, there is still a substantial amount of work that needs to be done to fight issues of adversity, but presentations like this bring society a little closer. “Speakers like this and other symposiums … are definitely good building blocks,” Tuquabo said.
Collegian Reporter Skyler Leonard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @skyler_leonard.