A crowd gathered at the 7 p.m. in the University Center Theatre Tuesday on the University of Memphis campus as actor, author and activist Lou Gossett Jr. spoke on the importance of education, unity and getting back to cultural roots.
“Although Mr. Gossett is still working in films, with an emphasis on faith-based stories, he is primarily dedicating ‘the last quadrant’ of his life to an all-out conscious offensive against racism, violence, ignorance and social apathy,” said Tori Thompson, a 20-year-old journalism student and host of the event, as she introduced Gossett.
The theatre was filled with students, faculty, and community members of all ages. The crowd of approximately 100 welcomed Gossett with a standing ovation.
Gossett was featured as the second celebrity guest speaker for the 2014 Black History Month celebration. Honored with his own event, Gossett chose to title his speech, “The Education before the Education.”
“Here, lately, I don’t think too many people are teaching you. The manners that you learn at home that you take out into the world with you so that you are able to be teachable,” he said.
His autobiography, An Actor and a Gentleman, refers to bvsome of his life transitions.
Gossett told stories of how he found himself amazed that his grandmother, who had never attended a school or had any formal education, found ways to help them maintain and survive. She used the methods she had learned from working on the plantation, such as using sweet potatoes to rid fevers and other home remedies to cure illnesses.
“Before school, before hip-hop, before gangs, before all of that, there were us. What is us? I am one of us; us, our people,” he said.
Every day his grandmother would make sure he was properly dressed, had respect for his elders and a love for God. He was taught to do well in school and stray from distractions, values he feels are important to be taught to others.
“Somewhere between then and now, technology has taken over, and we forget to listen," he said. "Some of us get too busy to teach you stuff."
As a result, he said people have lost the sense of responsibility.
He reflected on the anger he used to feel toward the racism and inequality he witnessed in America as well as his interaction with Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Gossett said he met Mandela briefly on the day he was released from prison and was taught that there is a bigger picture, and that he should lose the anger he possessed.
“Once we know upon whose shoulders we stand, then we can stand straight on up,” Gossett said. “We can’t be ‘one nation under God indivisible’ until we conquer racism.”
Gossett urged the youth to learn where they come from and the principles so that they can bring them back into the universities to educated others.
"With that freedom that we have comes a tapestry of responsibility," he said. "We have to learn understand, not just where we come from, but where those who are not like us come from, we can not anymore survive apart."
The youth are responsible to change the world, but it can only be achieved by being educated on other cultures and morals taught by our elders.
“One thing he said that really stood out to me is ‘the worst resentment I could possibly have are the ones I feel justified to keep,’” said Keon Prewitt, 22, a junior political science and international studies major. “I just think he really hit on what young individuals need to focus on."
Prewitt said he thinks what the youth of today is missing is accountability.
Prewitt, who is also one of the Black History Month Co-Chairs, said he was "more than pleased" with the turn out the event. He believes it will be helpful and hopes that it will influence those who were in attendance to follow the directions given by Gossett.
“What responsibility do we have to bring with us so that we behave like we are in the promise land,” Gossett said. “The same things my grandmother said, your dress code, your attitude, your knowledge of your culture, your respect for the opposite sex, your spirituality, your love and respect for elders, and your armor so that when you go out the door, you can resist temptation.”