Soledad O’Brien Urges Greensboro Audience to Stand for What Is Right
By Kimberly Fields
JOMC Journal Reporter
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality. “
Such were the words from Soledad O’Brien, an award-winning CNN anchor for the morning show “Starting Point” and a CNN special correspondent, quoted Dante from “Dante’s Inferno” during her speech Friday for the African-American Leadership Speaker Series at The Elm Street Center. O’Brien’s address focused on taking a stand for what is right and being a witness to other people’s stories.
O’Brien referenced her parents , a black Cuban mother and a white Australian father, and other life encounters in her. Her parents, who were discriminated against and spit on in the 1950’s and 60’s, showed her that if you live your life with dignity, eventually, people will follow your lead. They continued to live their life together because they believed that America was better than the racism they experienced.
O’Brien’s parents’ experience of raising six bi-racial children in a majority white neighborhood in Baltimore left her with this message.
“History eventually comes around and you can be part of making that change happen and if you stop at every mean word, if you are derailed every time you are spit upon, literally or metaphorically, then you are probably not going to be in a position to change the world. You are going to be derailed.”
O’Brien attributes her mother to her career. Her mother, who stood as a witness to a 12-year-old African-American boy in a 99 percent white school who was in the hall alone with the principal, vice principal and dean.
Not knowing what was going to happen, she stayed to make sure nothing would happen even when the principal told her he had it under control and she could carry on. She stayed and shifted the control to her, impacting the young boy, who she did not know, and O’Brien, who revealed the significance it made in her life.
“I remembered thinking that the one person in power was the one who would not be shushed away,” Said O’Brien. “It was the person who didn’t say anything, didn’t make a ruckus. She just stayed and she stood for a kid she did not even know, I mean really, a lick about him. It was about being a witness. So I don’t think it is an accident that all these years later I like telling the story of all these people who stories are rarely told, who voices are almost never heard. Who really would never have a microphone in their face if we didn’t run out and find them and help them tell their story.”
When it comes to leadership, O’Brien encouraged the audience to take a stand together in terms of a community, national and international. She says that everyone may not be reached, but it will make a difference to those that can be reached; the more people that will take a stand and be a witness, the more people that can be reached.
Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole and Dr. Edward. B. Fort were the recipients of the awards presented The African America Leadership, a branch of United Way Greensboro that is designed to acknowledge African-Americans who make Cornerstone Society gifts of $1,000 or more annually to United Way Greensboro. African-Americans are encouraged to become leadership givers by dedicating their time and resources to help reinforce the impact of United Way of Greater Greensboro’s partnership and programs. Their mission is to improve lives by mobilizing and uniting the caring power of our community.
Cole, former president of Spelman and Bennett Colleges , was the recipient of the African-American Leadership Founding Award. Cole is the only person to have served as president of these two colleges for women in the United States, the first African-American woman president of Spelman, and the first African-American to serve as the chair of the board of the United Way of America Inc.
Fort, who served as chancellor of North Carolina A&T State University from 1981-1999, received the Gwendolyn and Alvin V. Blount, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award. He has consulted and written for various institutions on multiculturalism, strategic planning, leadership, and policy formulations impacting urban universities and public school districts with diverse student populations.
Fort is currently the chancellor emeritus and serves as the Edward B. Fort Professor of Education at A&T.