The “Guardians of the Legacy” panel discussion highlighted the topic of diversity in America on Saturday.

“We want to bring together a spirit today that’s going to help us re-know each other and come together again around the table, people of all religions, of all races and of all genders,” Civil Rights Attorney and former Associate Council with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educations Fund Gail Wright Sirmans ’72, said. “In this global world, this is more important than ever. It’s still a struggle and it’s still a challenge.”

The panel featured the descendants of America’s most notable civil rights leaders, including Donzaleigh Abernathy, daughter of civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy; James Forman Jr., son of civil rights leader and founder of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee James Forman Sr.; Adam Clayton Powell III, grandson of one of the most famous churchman of his time and son of congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and A’Lelia Bundles, great-great-granddaughter of Madam C. J. Walker.

The first speaker, Bundles, started off by describing how the life of her great-great-grandmother influenced her own life.

“Madam Walker is relevant to me today because she set the stage,” Bundles said. “She showed what it was to be a corporately responsible citizen, to use your money to make a difference, to speak truth to other people and to power. Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. You have to get up and make them for yourselves.”

Powell, who is the Director of the National Science Foundation’s Integrated Media Systems at the University of Southern California, compared his own life to that of his father and discussed how he is carrying on the legacy of his parents.

“Perhaps the most valuable contribution we make is to tell their stories because others won’t,” he said. “I devote my life to education and labor, what both of my parents devoted their lives to and certainly to the task of equality.” Powell is the founder of the first black television station in the United States.

Abernathy, a writer and accomplished actress, gave a presentation on her father’s life as a famous civil rights leader.

“My daddy never expected me or my sister to go into the civil rights movement,” Abernathy said. “Well, I’m tired, and I just think that I have to do my part, too. I don’t think it’s right that we will depend on men to make the world a better place to live in.”

Forman then spoke about the future and discussed his own involvement in bringing about diversity in the nation.

“As I look at the world today, I see that there are several people today that have benefited from the works of the people who came before us, and there are none of us who have not,” Forman said.

Overall, the event was very successful and the attendance was higher than expected.

“I thought the event was very stimulating,” interim Vice Provost, Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of The College Faculty, professor of biology and Dean of Faculty Development in The College Joanna B. Olmsted said. “The speakers were wonderfully articulate and excellent at illustrating how the paths taken by their parents and earlier ancestors had shaped thinking as well as influenced the careers their descendants ultimately chose.”

“The general discussion was also excellent, reflecting concern on the part of many of the questions about how society appears to be becoming more divided and sparking dialog about how that tendency might be ameliorated,” Olmsted said.

Sridharan can be reached at asridharan@campustimes.org.



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