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Lomax pushes for student activism to remedy social inequality

By
Tuesday, February 7, 2006

In last night’s 10th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture, Michael Lomax expressed his hope that “the real development that comes with education” will disrupt a “cycle of poverty” that exists in contemporary American society.

Lomax, who delivered a talk titled “Coming of Age With King” in Salomon 101, touched on gains blacks have experienced as a result of the civil rights movement as well as continuing evidence of social inequality.

Since 2004, Lomax has been the pres-ident and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, the country’s most successful black higher education assistance organization.

Though he never met King, Lomax was able to pay his respects to the civil rights leader when he visited King’s coffin after his assassination in 1968. Lomax’s speech emphasized the importance of figures like King in creating substantial improvements for black Americans, underscoring “how profoundly they changed America for black people for the better.”

Lomax recalled seeing “colored waiting rooms and lunch counters in the bus terminals” during his first visit to Texas before the civil rights movement generated significant social gains for blacks. “We were brutalized and intimidated by the police … whose mere appearance on the scene was cause for alarm,” Lomax said. “We could not vote, we could not hold public office.”

Texas and other southern states would become the focal points of anti-segregation protests in the 1960s, he said.

Fundamental freedoms that some might take for granted “all stand today as testament to the success of Dr. King,” Lomax said.

Though the civil rights movement “removed the legal barriers and opened doors” in many areas, Lomax said contemporary America often neglects lower middle-class blacks, including the unemployed, low-income workers, single parents and elders. The ramifications of this social inequality can “only (be) seen when we take off our blinders or when a strong wind blows through, like Hurricane Katrina,” he said.

Lomax briefly touched upon messages targeted particularly at black communities, such as in hip-hop music, that apparently “don’t encourage social activism or formal education,” though he admitted he was relatively ignorant of this area of culture.

He lamented that the educational gap between white and non-white students is widening. Lomax encouraged Brown students to “reflect” and “think about what we can do in our own individual lives” to spark collective social gains. He refrained from advocating a specific type of activism, instead reiterating that “there is an imperative to be engaged.”

“I hope you all are the salvation, and we’re counting on you,” he said.

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