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Freeman Hrabowski to give MLK speech at UMSL observance

Saint Louis University

As part of University of Missouri-St. Louis’ annual Martin Luther King Jr. observance, keynote speaker Freeman A. Hrabowski III will address the impact of the iconic civil rights activist over the last half century. The celebration is at 10 a.m. to noon on Jan. 15 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) about his work in advocating for equal access to education for all.

Hrabowski said he’ll draw on his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing fight for civil rights during his speech to look at the progression of education in American families. As a child in 1963, Hrabowski marched under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama. He said barriers to education for all races remain.  

‘Race still matters’

“This has been a 50-year experiment. It’s only been in the past 50 years that we’ve been trying to bring more people into mainstream middle-class America,” he said. “We have made some progress … but we have many challenges, very clearly.”

Hrabowski chaired the Obama Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans and said when it comes to the barriers, “race still matters.”

“There continues to be an academic achievement gap, health disparities gap, an economic disparity between the races and much of that has to do with the structural issues in our society,” he said.

But he remains positive and encourages people to work together across the races to understand commonalities. He said UMBC involves students in civil engagements by having them mentor disadvantaged children in math and reading.   

“If we love this county, we have to be honest about the fact that we do have a long way to go and we have to find ways of helping, whether they’re black children or poor white children, or young women or immigrants and others,” he said.

Hrabowski continues to encourage children “to love to learn.” He said he would like to see more people show enthusiasm and passion towards education, similar to society’s devotion towards athleticism.

 “We don’t talk enough about the value of learning,” he said. “I want people to understand that we should be more excited about producing people who can solve the problem of cancer; who can help people deal with diabetes and dementia … we can do that, not only through STEM, but in using what we learn across the disciplines.”

He stressed the importance of being immersed in various skills, talents and interests. While Hrabowski loves math, he also loves learning different languages, philosophy and playing piano.

“One of the things we do in this country is we put people into one category or another, but we need people who can talk across disciplines,” he said.  

Listen to the full discussion:  


Related Event:

What: UMSL Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance
When: Jan. 15, 2018 at 10:00 AM
Where: Touhill Performing Arts Center, 1 University Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63121

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse 

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.