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Updated 4:00 PM January 24, 2007
 

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  MLK Symposium keynote lecture
Mfume: Toughness, commitment to ideals
will get nation back on track

Osama Bin Laden remains free to post video messages from hiding as President George W. Bush pursues a misguided war in Iraq, charged former U.S. Rep Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., Jan. 15 before a nearly packed Hill Auditorium.
Former U. S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (right), D-Md., makes a demonstrative point, to the approval of President Mary Sue Coleman (left), and John Matlock, associate vice provost, Office of Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and director of Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

"He (Bin Laden) turns out more DVDs than Beyonce," said Mfume, immediate past president of the NAACP who presented the 20th annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium keynote lecture. "I raise that (Iraq) because Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War," Mfume said. "We have to find a way to get ourselves back on track again and get our nation back to where it should be."

The audience included 100 attendees at the University's Detroit Center, and a crowd gathered at the Duderstadt Center gallery, all watching on live video.

Mfume opened by praising President Mary Sue Coleman for leading the University's fight to maintain a diverse community post-Proposal 2.

"I like tough people," Mfume said. "Don't get dismayed by the recent setback."

He praised the University for presenting one of the most comprehensive King tribute events in the country.

"Michigan's a leader in that regard and you ought to feel good about it."

And while chiding the current Congress for a failure to act to reduce poverty, insure the poor and reduce the national debt, Mfume recalled King's positive spirit, saying, "I think he would say, 'I have not given up on the American ideal.'"

The program opened with introductions from Lester Monts, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs; John Matlock, director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives; and Coleman.

"We want a mosaic of students, and we will always work to attain such diversity, affirmative action or not, because it is the right thing to do as a great public university committed to academic excellence," Coleman said to enthusiastic applause.

Mfume, forced to drop out of school at 16 after the death of his mother, eventually graduated magna cum laude and earned a master's degree in liberal arts from The Johns Hopkins University. He won a seat on the Baltimore City Council in 1979, was elected to Congress in 1986 and served there for the next decade, co-sponsoring the Americans with Disabilities Act, strengthening the Equal Credit Opportunity Law and serving as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Mfume became president and chief executive officer of the NAACP in 1996 and served nine years.

He told audience members that King's message is "more than the image we see on grainy black celluloid." "

"It's more than a 30-second sound bite. His vision was a vision that challenged as much as it uplifted," Mfume said, adding, "Truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder."

He called for coalition-building among ethnic groups and decried bigotry—including bigotry by Blacks against whites.

In the program happening just 20 days after the death of former President Gerald Ford, a U-M alumnus, Coleman in her remarks noted that Ford was "one of our strongest advocates for affirmative action."

"As a U-M senior, he was outraged when his good friend Willis Ward, a teammate on the football squad and his roommate on road games, became the subject of controversy, not because of a broken play or a missed pass, but because he was Black," she recalled.

"A visiting team, Georgia Tech, said it would not play Michigan if Ward played. Jerry Ford, Michigan's most valuable player, was so disgusted he threatened to quit."

Ward did not play against Georgia Tech, and talked his friend into remaining on the team.

"Young Gerald Ford saw firsthand how devastating it can be for a person to be shut out," Coleman said. "It was a moment he never forgot."

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