Civil rights legends inspire with their wisdom

After he spoke, he just shuffled his way slowly off the stage, as the elderly who are unsure of their footing sometimes do, with shoulders slumped over ever so slightly. The audience broke out in thunderous, unrelenting applause, as if we were urging an entertainer to return for an encore.

But this was no entertainer. This was a renowned scholar and activist - one of the world's great champions of justice, equality and civil rights. Julian Bond had just concluded Wayne Law's sixth Damon J. Keith Biennial Lecture, a lecture series named after another great crusader for justice. Professor Bond's lecture, "Under Color of Law," explored the role law has played in both encouraging and thwarting the civil rights movement.

At that moment in time, when we were all applauding and hoping Professor Bond would return once more to the stage, three thoughts came to mind. The first was how figuratively broad and strong those shoulders were, having supported the weight of so many people, including me, who have had the opportunity and privilege to stand on them.

Professor Bond has been at the forefront of social change since his time as a civil rights and anti-war activist in the 1960s. His activism began as a student at Morehouse College, and he has never wavered in his courageous advocacy for justice. Not as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, where his opposition to the Vietnam War prevented his being seated until the Supreme Court decided in his favor. Not in his many leadership or advisory roles in important organizations like the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. Not as a college professor at such notable institutions as American University, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia.

Professor Bond received the National Freedom Award in 2002, and the Library of Congress named him a "Living Legend" in 2008. Judge Keith said of him, "He's a fighter for freedom, and one who's actually placed his life in jeopardy as he fought for civil rights." Coming from a "fighter" like Judge Keith, that says a lot.

That brings me to my second thought: how fortunate we are to have hosted these two living legends at Wayne State. As lifelong crusaders for justice, both men have lived lives of tremendous purpose, conviction and courage. Others will likely follow in their footsteps - perhaps from our own Law School - but we must always remember the past and the contributions of these two great humanitarians, and others like them, who fought for the ideal of justice for all. The event was generously sponsored by Comerica Bank, and we are grateful for their commitment to continue sponsoring this lecture series in the near future.

That brings me to my third thought: how much of a loss it would be if this lecture series were ever to run out of sponsorship funding. I was reminded again of the importance of endowments for our university. We need to endow this lectureship so that what it stands for endures in the minds of Wayne State's students, faculty and staff, as well as that of our community members, in perpetuity. It stands for justice, freedom and the dignity of every person. And it stands for two of Wayne State's defining values: diversity and inclusion.

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