Mother of Michael Brown Addresses Students, Provides Guidance to Influence Change
Despite the brisk temperatures of winter and the harsh realities of the racial climate in America, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s 28th annual Freedom Breakfast brought warm messages of hope and encouragement on Wednesday morning, Jan. 17. The breakfast, hosted by the African American Student Union (TAASU), was created not only to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also to promote unity and harmony within our community.
Students captured this year’s theme, “Sustaining a Movement and Not Occupying a Moment,” through musical, dance and spoken word performances. Keynote speaker Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, the slain teenager shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, reiterated that theme in an address targeted primarily toward students.
TAASU Educational Chair Cameron Johnson called to mind the number of “polarizing incidents that have threatened to strip our country of some of its core values: liberty, equality, diversity and unity,” in his introductory remarks. However, Johnson stressed “that we remain hopeful and that we commit ourselves to being a part of the solution.”
The solution, according to McSpadden, is to become a movement and influence change in our communities.
“We hear about Black Lives Matter, and we recognize Martin Luther King and his movement, and we are impressed because there are a lot of people united for a common cause,” said McSpadden, adding that the world is attracted to large-scale movements. However, she reminded students that it only takes one person to be a movement.
“You are a movement, you just have to get up and move. If anything anywhere is going to get better, you have to move.”
Action, acknowledgement and accountability were the three high points of McSpadden’s keynote as she broke down what it takes to move forward.
“It is not the action itself as much as it is about you being in action,” said McSpadden, adding that in order to be a movement, “You have to be present, alert and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way.”
Students were challenged to find their purpose and do their part, help others and have the courage to do what needs to be done. Many TAASU students, according to Interim Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, have already been busy doing their part on campus.
“The African American Student Union has played a key role in helping our university pursue its diversity goals,” said Bichelmeyer. “These students have engaged in discussion, and co-lead efforts alongside university leaders to ensure that our minority students are properly served at UMKC.”
Being a movement, though, doesn’t just require action. McSpadden also told students that they need acknowledgement, and that starts with self.
She told students they need to recognize their regal value as black men and women and “not spend time with anyone who does not further your mission and cannot acknowledge your greatness.” Yet still, McSpadden said, there is a higher level of acknowledgement – gratitude and appreciation.
“Appreciate what you have because it is not owed to you,” she said. “Acknowledge that someone paid a price for you to sit in your seat and they are expecting great things from you.”
Students were further instructed to use their educational opportunities to catapult themselves to higher heights. “There is something in the world of the utmost importance that needs to be done, and you are on this earth to do it.”
According to McSpadden, nearing the end of December, the 2017 homicide count in the city of St. Louis was 203 – a record high since 1995. The way she sees it, that number equates to 203 distraught families, 203 of what she calls concrete roses that, “even before they were picked, they were picked on.”
“We need people in our communities that water our gardens and fertilize our roses,” said McSpadden. “We need people in our community that will embrace our community.”
She charged students to be leaders and contributors in the neighborhoods they grew up in. “Go there, find five children a week that remind you of you. Nurture those children, help those children and show them they have options. It is your responsibility.”
McSpadden left attendees with a quote from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Proceeds from the TAASU Freedom Breakfast go toward program and leadership development opportunities for students, and assist in funding the Herman Johnson scholarship for African American students.
Student performers throughout the program included:
Spoken word poem by Darrien Case
Black National Anthem sung by Alexis Hudspeth
Musical selection by Christian Swan, accompanied by Houston Smith
Lyrical dance performed by Taylor Edwards