Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Civil Rights Journey Holds Relevance to Youth

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Civil Rights Journey Holds Relevance to Youth

Article excerpt

ENGLEWOOD - It could have been just another stay-in-school, get- good-grades speech by a speaker no one had ever heard of. Instead, Dwight Morrow High School students were left wide-eyed in awe on Friday.

Benjamin F. Chavis met or marched with the civil rights movement's most towering figures -- Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. Sent to prison in 1971 during racial strife in North Carolina, he corresponded with Nelson Mandela while the future South African president was in a cell for opposing apartheid.

Released in 1980 after a federal court overturned his conviction, Chavis flew on Air Force One to see Mandela's inauguration, and rose to become the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Now living in Montclair, the 65-year-old Chavis shared his story with the students as part of a nationwide annual event sponsored by The HistoryMakers, which bills itself as the country's largest African-American video oral history archive. The group sends hundreds of those chosen as history makers into high schools to urge students to strive for excellence.

"I hear it from my parents every day, but hearing it from someone like him ..." said 17-year-old senior Drew Manning said. "He actually made it from 10 years in jail. That's kind of mind- blowing."

Chavis, who co-founded the Hip-Hop Summit Network with rap mogul Russell Simmons, credited his success to listening to his teachers and told the students that their education would be the foundation for whatever they hoped to accomplish.

"I think you already know that it's important, but I want to stress how important it is," he said. "What you learn here today, and what you do outside of here, will affect the rest of your life. That's how serious it is."

"I know some brothers and sisters get an attitude sometimes," he continued. …

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