Hill Harper emphasizes community at State of the Black Union

Stephanie Haines

Actor, author and activist Hill Harper spoke about issues affecting blacks and the need for leadership within the community Thursday at Northwestern’s 4th annual State of the Black Union Address.

“I believe most of us dream too small,” Harper said, asking the crowd of more than 350 to write out their goals on a sheet of paper before beginning his speech.

The address, hosted by NU’s Black student association, For Members Only, took place in Cahn Auditorium.

Students from NU and other colleges, faculty and community individuals attended. Justin Clarke, FMO vice coordinator of programming, said he asked Harper to address a specific question -“Are we living in a post-racial society?” -in light of recent race topics, such as Obama’s presidency and the execution of Troy Davis.

“We want NU students to see his perspective on the American racial stance and how we can make tangible progressions,” the Weinberg junior said.

Harper is known for his role in CSI:NY and other films, for which he has earned three NAACP Image awards. He graduated from Harvard University, where he met and befriended President Obama. Harper established the Manifest Your Destiny organization to mentor students and encourage them to stay in school. He is also a New York Times best-selling author.

“Harper uses his education and artistry to commit to praxis – moving beyond the classroom to engage in real debate and action,” African American Studies and Sociology Prof. Mary Pattillo said in her introductory speech.

In his speech, Harper talked about how factors like money, health and family relations affect the Black community. He related these factors to the need for people to set high goals to make positive change not only for the Black union, but also for the greater society.

Harper explained how he received a fan letter from a jailed 16-year-old with the reading level of a third grader.

“We, the Black Union, allow our public schools to under-educate our children,” Harper said. “I reflect this problem on me. How do I fit in? This is not a union if we are allowing our families and students to fail. Having goals and carrying them out into the community is what union is all about.”

Harper also stressed three components to good leadership in society: passion, reason and courage, which he based off of a Robert Kennedy quote. In his opening speech, SESP senior and FMO coordinator Tyris Jones spoke about the history of black enrollment at NU. When he came to NU, 87 out of roughly 2000 students were Black. Since then, he said, Black representation in the student body has steadily increased.

“We need a community of role players dedicated to working with University administrators to increase Black student enrollment and creating a stronger sense of overall community,” he said in his opening speech. “We hope this intellectual discussion will educate, enlighten and empower the NU community to new methods of thinking and action. The potential that the NU community has is second to none.”

Harper said he appreciated Jones’s words. However, Harper added we cannot nurture the Black community, or any community, with solely intellectual conversation. He said some of it must come from the heart.

At the end of his speech, Harper told the audience to “double” or enhance the goals they had written.

“I appreciated that he got down from the stage and really interacted with the audience,” McCormick Senior Terraia King said. “It was an amazing speech.”

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