WASHINGTON — When U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., asked his parents and grandparents growing up in the segregated South why there were different waiting room signs for Black people and White people, they would tell him “that’s the way it is” and “don’t get in the way” and “don’t get in trouble.”
“I got in trouble — good trouble, necessary trouble,” Lewis recalled Monday at the 99th Annual Meeting of the American Council on Education — the nation’s largest lobbying organization for college and university leaders. Lewis is a civil rights luminary revered for his historic participation in marches, his leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and humble yet bold leadership as a U.S. congressman.
Speaking at a reception where he received the 2017 John Hope Franklin Award from Diverse, Lewis urged those in attendance to continue to fight the good fight at a time when many essential services are at stake.
“Now, more than ever, we need to get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and speak up for education, health care, for all our children, for the women,” Lewis said.
Lewis was joined by two other recipients of the 2017 Franklin medal on Monday — Dr. Wilma J. Roscoe and Dr. Samuel L. Myers, former president of Bowie State University from 1967 to 1977. Both Roscoe and Myers were recognized for their work as “longtime guiding forces” behind the National Association for Equal Opportunity, or NAFEO, which is an umbrella advocacy group for HBCUs.
The Franklin Award — established in 2004 — pays homage to the extraordinary career of the pioneering historian, scholar and social activist. Past recipients include scholars such as Drs. David Levering Lewis, Maya Angelou and James Comer.
Bowie State University President Mickey L. Burnim described Myers as a “servant-leader giant,” and the “face of NAFEO” who was “giving of himself” for the advancement of African-Americans students, faculty and administrators. Myers said he was grateful to receive the Franklin Award.
Lezli Baskerville, president of NAFEO, praised Roscoe — a founder of the NAFEO Research Institute — for emphasizing the need to make arguments on behalf of HBCUs based on evidence. Baskerville also recalled Roscoe’s advocacy on behalf of HBCUs with presidential administrations that spanned from that of Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton and connections she forged on behalf of HBCUs on a global scale.
Roscoe stressed the need for HBCU leaders to look out for one another’s institutions — irrespective of whether they are public or private — like they did in the early days of NAFEO, which was founded in 1969.
“I’m hoping that, with the times of today, this will really be the blessing of the Black college presidents, that they will stay together, group together,” Roscoe said.
By doing so, she said, it will make a difference for HBCU students to survive.