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‘Do the right thing’ Lowery urges students to serve black America

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on October 2, 2012

By Dion Rabouin
(Written for The Atlanta Voice)

ATLANTA – America’s crop of college students are “the smartest generation yet in the black community,” but if that intelligence is not put to good use, black America will suffer, civil rights icon Rev. Joseph Lowery told Clark Atlanta University students this week.

Lowery, frequently hailed as the “dean of the civil rights movement,” delivered a stirring and often humorous keynote address at the school’s fall convocation Tuesday, urging students to use their intellect to advance the cause of freedom in America.

“[African Americans] are the moral conscience of the nation. Nobody – no group of people – has challenged this nation to do the right thing as we have,” Lowery told a packed audience at the school.

“And you young folks got to pick it up. I’m too old to be challenging now,” he added. “I can’t remember what I’m challenging about.”

In a passionate speech that was part history lesson and part Baptist revival, the longtime civil rights activist also urged students to support President Barack Obama and not to be distracted by an artificial controversy over Obama’s support of gay marriage.

The issue of same-sex marriage has been used to distract African Americans and Christians from important social issues, Lowery said, and is a strategy to “get us off message” before the Nov. 6 presidential election.

“We fought so hard for equal rights, how can we dare deny anyone else equal rights?” Lowery asked. “I’ve been married for over 60 years. I ain’t got time to worry about who other folks are marrying.”

Lowery, who turns 91 next month, co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in 1957 to provide opportunities for future generations of black people. Today’s generation of young people now must use those opportunities to continue the fight for freedom, Lowery said.

If they do not, Lowery pledged to find a way to hold young people accountable.

“If you don’t do the right thing, I’m gonna give you hell,” Lowery warned jokingly. “I might not be around, but I’ll haunt you when you least expect it – the middle of the night. There’s too much depending on you for you to mess around. We can’t afford it.”

CAU freshman Jalen Seward, 18, called Lowery’s speech inspiring, especially his stories of how black people had to overcome dangerous or inane obstacles just to win the right to vote.

“We fought hard for this opportunity, so we should take advantage of it,” said Seward, a Fayetteville, N.C. native. “Voting is important.”

Lowery initially planned to lead a voter registration march after his speech, but the march was cancelled due to bad weather, and students instead filed out of the school’s gymnasium to voter registration tables set up downstairs.

There, hordes of students swarmed tables manned by the nonprofit group Atlanta Voters United to register to vote.

Voter registration volunteer Marquez Davis said his college experience has opened his eyes to the importance of helping others vote.

“I want to make sure I support the candidate I feel will best service us as U.S. citizens and I just want to make sure that my peers are abreast and aware of everything that is going on as well,” said Davis, a CAU junior.

“I want to make sure that we’re… we’re doing our part as citizens,” the Miami native added. “I want to make sure that we have a healthy America.”

Lowery’s legacy of service and fight for freedom will continue at CAU through the college’s Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights, a research think tank and leadership development program.

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