January 18, 2012

Princeton University Celebrates King’s Legacy


“LOUDER, PLEASE”: Keynote speaker Bob Moses encouraged youngsters to proclaim the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution at Princeton University’s Martin Luther King Day program. (Photo Courtesy of the Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite.)

Bob Moses, currently a Distinguished Visitor at the Center for African American Studies, was this year’s keynote speaker at Princeton University’s Martin Luther King Day celebration. The program, which took place on Monday afternoon in Richardson auditorium, examined the role of education in achieving civil rights as participants encouraged listeners to continue Dr. King’s “journey.”

President Shirley Tilghman cited U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s belief that “education is the civil rights issue of our generation.”

Mr. Moses is credited with creating “a pedagogical revolution” with his Algebra Project (see http://www.algebra.org), and he did something pretty revolutionary at the Monday program. Asking all the teen-agers in the audience to join him on the stage, Mr. Moses led them in what he described as a “we the people” session. The goal was to demonstrate the belief “that every child has a right to a quality education to succeed in this technology-based society and to exercise full citizenship.”

In an earlier skit leading up to the recitation, a young black man named “Jimmy Crawford” tried to help a black woman register to vote, without success. Minutes later when Mr. Moses asked the 50-plus youngsters on stage who Jimmy Crawford worked for, their resounding response was “the people of the world.” To emphasize his belief in getting “Jim Crow out of education,” and the importance — and appropriateness — of using the Constitution as a tool to achieve that goal, the Harlem-born activist then led the youngsters through the Preamble. “It doesn’t say ‘we the press,’” he told them. “It doesn’t say ‘we the Supreme Court.’ It says ‘we the people.’”

Members of the audience on Monday afternoon included Congressman Rush Holt (D-12); Mercer County Freeholder Andrew Koontz; and Township Committeeman Lance Liverman.

In her opening comments, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity Michele Minter introduced the educational focus of the program by citing “dismal” statistics and the on-going presence of inner-city “drop-out factories.” This year, she noted, marks the 55th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas “by the brave and steadfast young people known as the Little Rock Nine.”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Ms. Minter observed, citing Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

This year’s Journey Award for Special Achievement went to senior Sandra Mukasa, who was described as “a bold and dynamic leader.” Since her arrival in 2008, Ms. Mukasa “has not been shy abut working to create an environment that is welcoming and safe for students who are part of the LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer] community.”

Introducing sociology and international affairs professor Miguel Centeno, this year’s recipient of the Journey Award for Lifetime Service, Ms. Tilghman spoke of his work as a founder of the Princeton University Preparatory Program in 2000 (PUPP), a mentoring program for disadvantaged high school students. After ten years, evidence shows that PUPP alumni have college retention and graduation averages above national averages. and have attended some of the best schools in the country, including Princeton.

Some youngsters had an opportunity to return to the Richardson stage when the winners of the annual visual arts, literary, and video contests were announced. Students had been asked to submit original writings, artwork, and videos that focused on “the importance of a quality education as a foundation for success throughout life.”

Well-received musical interludes at the beginning and end of Monday’s program were provided by the Ewing-based New Perspective Jazz Band.