Earlier today, 50 GPS students across grades six through 12 were fortunate to have an experience not many others their age have access to. They traveled to the Memorial Auditorium for a special Q&A session with Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X.
When GPS Director of Belonging and Community Engagement Lauren Lawrence Swanson ’09 learned the two women would be traveling to Chattanooga to serve as keynote speakers for this afternoon’s 11th annual UTC MLK Day celebration, she reached out to UTC’s Office of Multicultural Affairs to inquire about the possibility of sending students to the event. While they obliged, they informed her there wouldn’t be room for many students. Fortunately, another school reached out shortly after, and UTC decided to schedule an additional session for middle and high school students.
Weather forced Hamilton County Schools to remain closed today, so GPS students were lucky enough to get their own private session! Moderated by UTC’s Associate Director of Engagement and Undergraduate Admissions Brandalyn Shropshire, the women answered questions about what they look for in future leaders as well as what women and girls can draw from the legacies of their fathers.
Dr. King said, “One of the most important things you can draw from their legacies is the importance of preparedness and being a critical thinker.” She spoke about always remaining objective, saying, “The power of truth and love will transform the world.”
She also spoke about how vital it is to get to the truth and to “ask the questions behind the questions.” She explained that people misquote her father all the time, take his quotes out of context, or assume any attributions are correct because they’re on the internet. She illustrated why seeking out authentic sources is so important with a story about a quote often attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. that many people may have heard: “The time is always right to do what is right.” Turns out, her father didn’t say that. Instead he said, “The time is always ripe to do what is right.” People continue to perpetuate the wrong quote because they don’t seek out the actual source material.
Dr. Shabazz spoke about the strength her mother had following the assassination of Malcolm X. “I often wonder how this young woman who had four little daughters and was pregnant with twins was able to overcome this trauma, go back to earn her PhD, and raise her children in a bubble of love.” The answer? “She never took ‘no’ for an answer for herself,” Dr. Shabazz said. “There were so many times she could’ve given into bitterness and despair, but she was filled with faith and self-respect.” Knowing her value, respecting herself, and leaning on her own strength allowed her mother to continue her life “never forgetting the pain but readjusting.”
In closing, the two women had three main takeaways for our students: always seek the truth, never take ‘no’ for an answer, and always be your authentic self. And, in the words of Beyoncé, they asked the girls, “Who run the world?”
In unison, everyone responded, “GIRLS!”