Bakari Sellers wants people to take a journey toward excellence.
To do that, he says the answers to two questions are necessary: How far have we come? And where do we go from here?
“Along this journey to excellence, you may not get rich. You may not get your name in lights. You may not get all the accolades you would like,” Sellers said. “But when we get to that point of being excellent, then somebody somewhere—maybe even Ms. Early—will be able to say, ‘Job well done.’ ”
The CNN political analyst and attorney spoke about “Education, Civil Rights and Equality: Cornerstones for Our Future” during the 18th annual Mary Frances Early Lecture on April 2. As part of the lecture, Sellers shared lessons from his own journey toward excellence, as well as other like Early, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his father, Cleveland Sellers Jr., who helped lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“We have made progress, but we still have a way to go,” he said.
Sellers said the answer to his second question lies fundamentally “in the ability to rededicate ourselves to loving our neighbors even when they don’t love us” and “learning to dream with our eyes open.”
Sellers made history in 2006 when, at age 22, he defeated a 26-year incumbent state representative to become the youngest member of the South Carolina state legislature and the youngest African-American elected official in the nation.
“I had the audacity to believe that I could dream with my eyes open and people would want to follow,” he said. “You see, you don’t have to be confined to your gates. You don’t have to be confined to your ZIP code or your public school or your graduate school program. We can dream with our eyes open along this journey, and we can literally change the world.”
The event, part of the Signature Lecture Series, is named for Mary Frances Early, the first African-American student to earn a degree from UGA, and her legacy at the university. Early graduated with a master’s degree in music education in 1962 and completed her specialist in education degree in 1967.
“I feel fortunate and privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in a movement in the only way that I could, which was to go to school,” she said. “I am so happy to have had that opportunity because it means so much to me now to see the diversity not only in this audience, but across this university.”
The Mary Frances Early Lecture is sponsored by the Graduate School, the Office of Diversity and Graduate and Professional Scholars.
In addition, Graduate and Professional Scholars presents the Mary Frances Early Scholarship each year to a graduate or professional student who embodies Early’s courage and leadership. The 2018 recipient is Claudette Tucker, a doctoral candidate in mathematics and science education.