Fifty-four years ago in Little Rock, Ark., nine African American students stood outside of Little Rock Central High School unable to enter their school as members of the Arkansas National Guard blocked their entrance.
And today â€“â€“ while things are different â€“â€“ not all students are taking advantage of the opportunities theyâ€™re given, according to Eric Thomas, the keynote speaker for CSUâ€™s Black History Month celebration.
â€œThe problem is that this generation is working less than any other generation, yet they want more than any other before them,â€ Thomas said to the nearly 60 students gathered in the Grey Rock Room Tuesday evening. â€œThis is a time for evaluation.â€
Thomas, who works as a consultant for Michigan State University and several collegiate athletic programs, is a far cry from his 16-year-old self: a homeless high school dropout on the streets of Detroit.
After receiving his GED, Thomas earned his bachelorâ€™s degree from Oakwood University and went on to receive his masterâ€™s degree from MSU. He now travels the country, spreading a message calling on the youth to live up to their full potential.
â€œWhen Martin Luther King Jr. said â€˜I have a dream,â€™ he wasnâ€™t talking about himself; he had a Ph.D,â€ Thomas said. â€œHe had a dream about our generation.â€
When Thomas studied black history, he noticed a sense of urgency during the Civil Rights movement when many were actively campaigning for equal rights. Itâ€™s that sense of urgency that Thomas stressed in his speech, trying to make students realize how precious time can really be.
â€œIf they give you four to six years to get a degree, you donâ€™t want to end up being an eighth-year senior,â€ Thomas said. â€œThe longer youâ€™re here, the less cute you are. You have to use your time wisely.â€
â€œEverything you do should have redeemable value,â€ Thomas added. â€œI mean, what do you get for playing â€œCall of Dutyâ€ for four to five hours? Nothing.â€
CSU graduate Juwon Melvin, who had already seen some of Thomasâ€™ speeches on YouTube, particularly enjoyed Thomasâ€™ focus on a â€œsense of urgency.â€
â€œWe need to start valuing and appreciating the opportunities that we have everyday, not wasting it,â€ Melvin said.
For freshman animal science major Raven Johnson, a quote of Thomasâ€™ stood out.
â€œHe said, â€˜If you fall down and can look up, you can get up,â€™â€ Johnson said. â€œThat holds truth for me, and that is definitely something that really hit me.â€
For Thomas, one of the greatest disservices students can do unto themselves is to not fulfill their ultimate potential.
â€œThere was a time when minorities couldnâ€™t go to school in mainly white institutions,â€ Thomas said. â€œNow that we can, we need to take advantage of that opportunity.â€
â€œYouâ€™re paying too much, and you have too much potential to throw it away,â€ Thomas added.
Senior Reporter Erin Udell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.