MLK breakfast sparks conversation on the history, evolution of racism

Dick Gregory speaks to a packed ballroom at the MSC on Thursday morning during the annual A&M Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.

Those who attended the ninth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast at Texas A&M University on Thursday morning had the opportunity to hear a sprawling conversation that touched on several issues including perception, the importance of information and how racism has evolved over the past 50 years.

The event, which was hosted by the MSC Carter G. Woodson Black Awareness Committee, featured a panel discussion with comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory and actress Amanda Seales. The discussion was moderated by Phia Salter, an assistant professor in Texas A&M's department of psychology.

Seales replaced Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, whom event officials said had to pull out of the breakfast for "personal reasons."

Throughout the event, both Seales and Gregory urged the audience to always pursue information as a guide to "give them direction" in their activism.

"There is so much information out here," Gregory said. "It is incredible."

Seales called it a "cornerstone" of activism, especially for young people.

"Once you have the information, it's not possible for you to be still," Seales said. "You can't just go home and play PlayStation."

Gregory, who rose to national prominence in the 1960s, explained that in addition to being a tool for seeking truth, information is also important in determining what is truth and what is perception.

"All over the world people know what's going on except here, especially when it comes to racism and sexism," Gregory said.

He said it takes the steady work of educated people armed with information to make a real change in the world.

While both panelists agreed the Internet is a valuable resource for sharing and learning information, they also said it has allowed for a trend of "faceless racism" on social media.

"You can be a Klansman on Twitter because your hood is just not having a picture," Seales said. "[Racism] manifests itself in a different way today."

She continued that over the years, racism has evolved to become "smarter, just like our technology."

Gregory, who agreed with Seales, said once the day comes that people can "no longer understand white supremacy, you can kiss it goodbye."

Opening the event, Texas A&M President Michael Young recalled a few of the interactions he has had with civil rights leaders and activists in the past, noting that one conversation with the Rev. Jesse Jackson last year had particularly struck him.

In it, Young said that Jackson emphasized "there isn't a talent gap here in the United States, there is an opportunity gap."

"I believe it is our obligation to eliminate that gap, to celebrate as we do today the great legacy of Dr. King, to celebrate and to commemorate his courage, his values, what he represented and what he stood for," Young said. "That becomes important as we as Aggies create an environment where everybody is welcomed and everybody has the opportunity to realize their best potential."

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(3) comments

Brazos County Citizen

It's difficult to rise up and pull yourself out of poverty and dependence on government when 70+% (Blacks) and 50+% (Hispanics) of your kids are born out of wedlock - just the way Dems like it and want it to remain.

I hope these groups will remember (or learn) how it was different for them under Reagan's pro-growth, pro-opportunity economic policies:

Mr Me

@agnerd You hit the nail right on the head. Another faction in the equation is the age gap among the parents who are not pushing their children to higher degrees. The older generation understands the importance of education and it's value in opening certain doors but the younger parents who have failed to achieve that and then in turn have children of their own are not passing on the same sentiment and push their children to focus on sports and other trades.

A. Nerd

"there isn't a talent gap here in the United States, there is an opportunity gap."

If that were true, our top 10% automatic admission in Texas would've brought black and hispanic representation in colleges to the same proportions as the population. But that hasn't happened even though a lot more of them qualify for auto admission. Even after adjusting for income, they are still under-represented. Unfortunately, the cause then falls back to cultural differences. Bachelors, Masters, PhDs, and advanced degrees are emphasized and respected more in the white and asian community. The black community emphasizes sports and respect, while the hispanic community emphasizes family and religion. And now you can start to see why there's an education gap.

The people in this panel have figured it out. Once one of these under-represented minorities gets a bachelor's degree, their children are just as likely to get a degree as their white counterparts. Every black and Hispanic kid you can get to college makes a difference for all of their offspring. The people on this panel understand that education is the key, and they are trying to communicate that to the students. But they are fighting an uphill battle against their culture. I have struggled to try to emphasize education to the Hispanic community. Only about 10% of them get it. The rest of them refuse to be helped, and it's disheartening. I just sit back thinking it's so simple to lift these people out of poverty, but their cultural values get in the way for most.

Hopefully sometime in my lifetime we can have another MLK that can emerge and actually adjust the culture of these communities and achieve change. I'd hoped it would be Obama, but that's just turned into a train wreck. I am convinced that these communities cannot be altered by outside influences, and that the change has to come from within them. So I guess we'll continue to wait while nothing changes.

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