Over the last year we've had some terrific speakers join us at our monthly town hall meeting.
Our last one was very special. David Fryson, vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion joined us as part of West Virginia University's celebratration of Diversity Week.
He was a hit.
David spoke passionately about equality, opportunity, and the lessons of yesterday that we can use today to continue to foster an environment of inclusion and advancement.
Here's some highlights of the session - I have to use highlights, because I could write forever about his life.
David is the grandson of a slave. His dad was 58 years old when he was born and although David grew up poor of possessions, he grew up rich with hope.
He is multi-talented: a musician who started touring at 11 years old; a newspaper writer; a minister; a community leader and a civil rights activist.
He told the story of his childhood. He was shy to the point of being mute/silent. Although he hadn’t found his voice, he found a love of reading and learning. In fourth grade, despite reading eighth grade books, he was held back because he didn’t speak in class. At that time, he committed to finding his voice.
Each day, he went to the principal’s office and said that he didn’t deserve to be in fourth grade again.
The attendant tired of his daily visits, but during this time he found his voice.
The next year, he was promoted two grades.
He was heard.
David became committed to equality and to diversity. He came to know famous people. He became part of the movement for equal rights.
He makes a difference for us each day.
The richness of diversity is like wisdom of crowds – a group with distributed intelligence makes better decisions than a solitary expert. This is true for people, animals and insects.
Diversity = richness.
David pointed out that we are a country of immigrants, when the question of the noise around immigration was brought up.
We are more the same than different. 99.9 percent the same genetically, but with differences in culture and upbringing.
He also got personal. He is vegetarian; loves Tyler Perry; his favorite vacation place, Washington DC; his hope for us is that we recognize our sameness, not our differences.
We talked about Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech, "I Have a Dream."
He recounted that the speech started off as a written speech given at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. It was going poorly, when he abandoned his script, grabbed the podium and spoke from his heart.
This is my favorite speech – here is my contribution to diversity week.
I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!