The African American Student Union (AASU) wanted a powerful keynote speaker for their inaugural Black History Month Celebration that would draw in and engage groups all over campus. When Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin agreed to come speak, they got all of that and more.
Franklin, who has served as Atlanta’s mayor since being elected as a first-time candidate for public office in 2001, spoke in the Student Center ballroom as part of the event on Saturday, Feb. 23 which was free and open to the general public.
“The main purpose of the event was to have a speaker that could engage the entire campus which different groups could relate to,” said Candace Mitchell, a second-year Computer Science major and AASU Black History Co-Chair.
“Shirley Franklin is a politician so we reached out to political groups; she’s a woman so we reached out to the Women’s Resource Center. We wanted to create an event that many people could come out to and enjoy, and also obtain a little knowledge about black history and the reason our organization does a lot of events to uplift black history,” Mitchell said.
“I was amazed by how much insight she was able to offer, [including] the questions afterward, [some of which] pertained to black history but also stepped outside the realm. She talked about the progress of the city in general, gave personal advice to mothers and students who wanted to reach out in their community more. She’s able to give insight and wisdom in many different areas,” Mitchell said.
Franklin touched on a broad array of topics, from politics (including her support of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama) to history and local issues. Speaking to an audience of primarily Tech students, she emphasized the ability of young people to affect change.
“There’s all sorts of evidence that young people can lead the way to positive change,” she said, using as an example the 25-year-old Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott.
“The value of young people is that you are able to believe the impossible,” Franklin said.
She described the importance of self-confidence and setting and maintaining high expectations for oneself. Franklin described how when she decided to run for mayor she faced wide-ranging and sometimes ridiculous criticism for things such as being “not black enough”, not as smart as her opponents in the campaign (who held Ph.D.’s to her MA), and “too blonde”.
She said that since she was a teenager, she has faced low expectations because she was a black woman, and she has always taken delight in proving people wrong every step of the way.
Other than Franklin’s speech, the event featured short monologues read by AASU members representing eras and figures of black history, among them South African president Nelson Mandela, singer Marion Anderson, the Brown v. Board of Education decision integrating public schools, slave rebellion leader Nat Turner, nationalist leader Marcus Garvey, activist Malcolm X and poet Maya Angelou.
They also presented a slideshow documenting black history at Tech, from the first black Tech students in 1961 to more modern scenes such as the current Mr. and Ms. Georgia Tech, both of whom had been sponsored by AASU.
“Our theme for this Black History Month was progress. We wanted to illustrate the progress of black culture,” Mitchell said.
In addition to helping to plan the event, Mitchell appeared on stage to introduce Sue Ann Allen, executive assistant to President Clough, who then introduced Franklin. Mitchell said the president’s office showed a lot of interest in this event and wants to take it even further next year.
“We’re interested in forming a black history committee on campus. Dr. Clough is very interested in helping us do this… We’re going to try to develop our calendar earlier so we can do a lot more things and have a lot more support from the Institute for the black history calendar, so that way it will be spread around campus a lot better… Basically we’re trying to build on the success we had this month to make it better next year,” Mitchell said.