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The Blue & Gray Press | August 23, 2019

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MLK Day speaker breaks barriers for students

MLK Day speaker breaks barriers for students


Bakari Sellers, former Democratic legislator from South Carolina, now TV political commentator and practicing attorney, visited the University of Mary Washington for his keynote address on Wednesday. Sellers spoke to students and faculty as an addition to the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day sponsored and organized by the Office of the President and the James Farmer Multicultural Center. Sellers addressed the crowd and discussed the importance of the civil rights leaders of the past who shaped the nation’s future.

Over the course of the evening, Sellers touched on numerous topics ranging from race relations in the United States, the political atmosphere in the wake of a presidential election, civil rights issues and his own experiences throughout his career. Among these topics, Sellers also touched on his vision for political and social progression.

“Democracy is the free flow of conversation from both ways,” Sellers said. He said that individuals, regardless of values, creeds, religion or race, must have conversations with one another and step out of their comfort zones.

Referencing the past presidential cycle as evidence, Sellers explained to the audience that our country is tremendously divided. He urged for more bipartisan support amongst one another, along within our political system.

“When he stepped off the stage I thought it broke a barrier in which he went from being a political figurehead to being another person like us,” said Jazmin Andrews, sophomore international relations major, in addressing Seller’s style of presentation. “The fact that he paid attention to those asking questions and treated them with respect really resonated with me.”

Along with Seller’s keynote speech, the James Farmer Multicultural Center sponsored and organized other events to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the month. These events include “Trading Spaces: A Discussion On Race Relations and Intersectionality,” “Preserving the Dream: Breakfast and Discussion” and “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day of Service.”

“I think in comparison to past MLK Celebration speakers, Bakari was different in the way that he discussed utilizing past leaders and their movements and using them as inspiration and viewing them through a different lens,” said senior English major Danielle Howard.

“Past speakers did an amazing job at harkening to a time where movements were more centralized, but I think he recognized that today’s movements operate differently and under different social cues and expectations.”

Sellers began his career in politics when he started campaigning in 2005 for a seat in South Carolina’s House of Representatives. He described the process of campaigning for public office for the first time as difficult but not impossible.

He talked about how he personally knocked on more than 2,600 doors and visited over 55 churches in the 90th district, South Carolina, urging voters to make their voices heard.

On June 13, 2006, after the votes were tallied, Sellers became the first African- American to represent the 90th district of South Carolina’s House of Representatives, one of the youngest state legislators in the country and the youngest African-American elected officials in the country.

Sellers concluded his address by answering questions and addressing concerns the audience had. Some of the concerns addressed by Sellers included angst in the rise of a new President and executive cabinet, rising conflicts between the Republican and Democratic Party and the future of social viability in the United States.

Although Sellers was running on a tight schedule, as he had to drive to D.C. later that night and be in court the following day, he took his time with each person. After answering questions and concerns, Sellers stepped off the stage to meet and thank all of those who came to hear him speak.

Sellers explained to the audience that he contributes a lot of his success to a simple attitude or state of mind. He expressed that nothing is impossible and that believing it will happen is important to be successful.