Feb. 28, 2008
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
MLK Jr. speaker urges students to embrace diversity and excel
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The Rev. Michael Robinson, a Philadelphia minister and motivational speaker, exhorted Slippery Rock University students, faculty members and staff last Monday to embrace the power of unity as a positive force and to use adversity as an opportunity for growth. "Adversity can fuel your comeback," he said.
"Slippery Rock University did not recruit you to fail. You were recruited to succeed," Robinson said. "Everything in your history shows that you have the potential to succeed. So succeed."
Robinson provided the keynote address for a tribute program honoring the slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., sponsored by the offices of student development and multicultural programs. The program, which drew more than 200 people, included opening and closing selections by the SRU Chosen Generation Gospel Choir, a dance performance by student A'nne Collins, a dance major from Rochester, the presentation of five of SRU Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Leadership Awards and the announcement of three awards for an MLK Essay Contest.
Robinson, who conducts professional development and motivational workshops for churches, corporations, community agencies and schools, quoted scripture, told jokes and talked about his own joy of fatherhood during his wide-ranging address.
He began by urging attendees to behave in a responsible manner, saying individual behavior contributes to the perception of a larger group.
"My behavior affects the perception of men, black men and Americans," he said. "How you behave reflects on a larger image, so as a community we want to be united to send a clear message as to who we are."
He used the analogy of the human body to illustrate the importance of cultural unity. The little toe, though small, throws the body out of kilter if it gets injured. "The community is a big body, so we need to stay in our lane and do the best we can do," he said.
Taking up the topic of diversity, he conceded that diversity means many things depending on one's cultural frame of reference. "Whatever it means to you, max it out," he said. "If we don't embrace diversity, we lose the power that the community can generate. We're stronger as a collective than operating solo."
The core of Robinson's message focused on overcoming life's inevitable hardships. He cited some of his own heroes as examples, including Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, women's suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, contemporary singer Jennifer Hudson and Californian David Pelzer, an abused child who later wrote the book "A Child Named It."
Anthony was the driving force behind the suffrage movement that culminated with women gaining the right to vote in 1920. Frankl survived Auschwitz, one of the Nazi's concentration camps during World War II. Hudson's mother and two other family members were murdered last year, but she returned to sing the national anthem at the most recent Super Bowl.
"The storm is going to come," Robinson emphasized. "Drama comes to my front door and knocks on the door and says, "Hey Mike, come on out and play.' Sometimes adversity is so heavy a weight on our shoulders we give up."
He said the nation's graveyards are full of "would haves and should haves," people who missed opportunities to overcome racial adversity, domestic violence or abuse.
"You still have the power to be affirming and positive," Robinson said. "I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying it's the thing to thing to do. The choice is yours."
Robinson, who received his bachelor's degree from Clarion University, has also worked as a television and radio talk show host.
"I was really inspired by him," said Riasha Thomas, an accounting major from Erie. "A couple of years ago, I wasn't even thinking about college, but here I am. I liked his message of not letting things get you down."
"I learned a lot today, and I was really encouraged by his speech," said Tashana Pulliam, an undeclared major from Erie. "Some of the lessons are very pertinent. So many people have tribulations, but it can always be so much worse."
After Robinson's lecture, five Civil Leadership Awards were given to SRU individuals and groups who demonstrate support of civil rights and set an example by advocating for social justice. This year's recipients are Paula Olivero, assistant vice president for student development; Kara Cooke-Robeson, a social work major from Slippery Rock; Building Bridges, a student organization which promotes diversity; Michelle McCollin, assistant professor of special education, and Colleen Cooke, associate professor of parks and recreation/environmental education. Justin Brown, a sophomore from Coatesville, accepted the award for Building Bridges.
The essay contest winners are first place, Amanda Barkley, a social work major from Aliquppa; second plce, Sue Ann Mulvey, a nursing major from Sharon; and third place, Aderonia Foreback, an elementary major from Warren, Ohio.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.