President Gilbert addresses divide at Carter G. Woodson Reception

As a result of the political climate in the United States, Americans are more divided now than ever before.

Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert addressed the division as he delivered a speech on education as a way to bridge divides at a reception honoring Carter G. Woodson Wednesday at the Foundation Hall to kick off Black History Month.

“Dr. Woodson is a truly admirable figure in our nation’s history,” Gilbert said. “He was a scholar, the son of former slaves. He was at the forefront of bringing African American history to light. He escaped poverty through education, ultimately receiving his doctorate from Harvard in 1912.”

“Dr. Woodson certainly embodied the notion that education and increasing professional and social contacts among blacks and whites could reduce racism, he promoted an organized study of black history partly for that purpose,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert began by telling a personal story about growing up in the era of Jim Crow.

“I grew up in the deep South in the era of Jim Crow and, when I was in junior high school, my school integrated in the Spring of 1970,” Gilbert said. “From a very early age, I had seen how people were treated differently and mistreated simply because the color of their skin. I saw the impact of segregation and what it had on our population and how it negatively impacted our community and our society.”

President Gilbert said his life was greatly impacted by a new English teacher who was an African American.

“My white English teacher at midyear was replaced by Mrs. Beatrice Moore, a black English teacher from another junior high school,” Gilbert said. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from that English class, because I had never been around an educated black person to that point in my life.”

“But for some reason, Mrs. Moore took a liking to me, and I quickly learned to respect and to love Mrs. Moore,” Gilbert said. “She changed the way I saw the world. Mrs. Moore changed my world. All it took was getting to know one person who disproved all the unspoken rules of black people being inferior to whites.”

Gilbert then went on to say that he was thankful that he had the privilege to meet Mrs. Moore.

“Had it not been for Mrs. Moore, it would have been someone else probably later on, but I had always felt extraordinarily fortunate that destiny brought her to me in my class in Mississippi in 1970.”

Gilbert also said that Marshall is “aggressively combating racism and discrimination at every turn.”

“We are expanding our programming to students, faculty and staff in our community in Huntington to raise awareness and provide people with the tools they need to grow professionally and to face the changes ahead with anticipation and without fear,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert concluded his speech by discussing the Marshall creed and how the creed defines the university.

“It says we are an educational community, a well community, an ethical community, a pluralistic community, a socially conscious community and a judicious community,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then described who the sons and daughters of Marshall want to be.

“We are seekers of truth, not people who tolerate lies and injustice,” Gilbert said. “We are lifetime learners, not complacent graduates. We are readers and thinkers, not blind followers of rhetoric. We embrace the light; we are not the ones who hide in the darkness. We turn the cheek; we don’t return violence. We surround ourselves with diversity, we don’t shut out people because they’re different. We find solutions, we don’t contribute to problems.”

Adam Stephens can be contacted at [email protected]