“On a tombstone, the dash between the birth date and death date is ‘life’ and one must truly live it,” Kweisi Mfume said. “Unfortunately, procrastination is still the great thief of time.”
Former president of the NAACP, Mfume gave a lecture at Mitten Hall on Feb. 15 as part of Student Activities’ Respect Week. He spoke to students about some of the problems that the United States faces, how to live a respectable life, how to have self-confidence and about his past.
Some of the dilemmas Mfume was most passionate about included combating poverty and discrimination. He said poverty levels in the country are “unacceptably high” and also accredited the problem to underpaying jobs. From this, Mfume said a large part of drug addiction stems from these two obstacles.
Mfume said racism is also a prominent problem and that despite all of its advances, there are still inequities.
“Even 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, less than 7 percent of all elected officials in the U.S. are black or Latino,” Mfume said.
Mfume concluded his arguments about America’s problems by saying it is not acceptable for society to act as if its problems do not exist.
“We all have a responsibility to take what we have learned and make the world better,” Mfume said.
In order to loosen his listeners up, Mfume asked everyone to shake hands with the person sitting next to them. He then proceeded to speak about how to make the most of one’s life and how to live it well.
The former NAACP president reflected on today’s youth. He said the definition of a man is not if he can “make a baby,” but if he knows how to take care of one. He went on to say women should not refer to themselves as “hoes” or “bitches,” but should learn to treat themselves as first-class women. Mfume drew a correlation between the problems with America’s youth and the fact that the majority of people in prison are between the ages of 18 and 24.
Following his views on youth, he described his and the impact that it had on his life.
Mfume was born in 1948 as Frizzell Gray and grew up in Baltimore, Md. While still a child, he watched his mother suffer and eventually die from cancer. His family could not afford medical treatment. Mfume dropped out of high school as a sophomore and polished shoes and carried groceries for money. He soon joined a gang, of which he eventually became the leader. As Mfume traveled down his path of juvenile delinquency with the gang, he was arrested 13 times and fathered five children.
He finally decided to leave the gang when he discovered that his life was going “nowhere fast.” For abandoning them, the gang members beat Mfume on numerous occasions, often leaving him bleeding in an alley. In his attempts to turn his life around, he felt that he needed a new identity, one that would provide direction for his life. Listening to a suggestion made by his great-aunt, he adopted the name Kweisi Mfume from Ghana in West Africa. “Kweisi” meaning ‘conquering’ and “Mfume” translating to ‘son of kings,’ he felt it was appropriate.
Mfume graduated magna cum laude from Morgan State University and received his master’s from Johns Hopkins University. In 1979 he joined the Baltimore City Council in order to clean up the streets that he once roamed. He left in 1986 to take his seat in the House of Representatives where he served until 1996, when he became the president of the NAACP. Mfume left the position in December 2004.
Mfume says that regardless of all his accomplishments, he believes that the most important thing he ever did was take charge of his own destiny.
“Everything he said really hit home,” said political science major Amber Hayward. “It allowed me to think more about my personal situation and how I can help more to change the way America thinks.”
Jesse North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.