Hill Harper at ECU

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The East Carolina University community honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a Jan. 21 presentation by actor and author Hill Harper. Harper shared with the crowd the importance of passion, critical thinking and service to the community. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)


Actor Hill Harper speaks to MLK legacy in annual celebration

Jan. 22, 2014

By Jamitress Bowden
ECU News Services

Acclaimed actor, author, humanitarian and philanthropist Hill Harper encouraged the East Carolina University community to “do what makes your heart beat faster” during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Jan. 21 in Wright Auditorium.

An energetic Harper began his lecture by acknowledging U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield and N.C. Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield – both in attendance – by citing how they serve their communities.

Throughout his speech, Harper spoke about the importance of service and the impact service can have on varied underserved communities.

“That is what we stand for; that is what is in our mission. We want to increase access to higher education and we’re very intentional about doing that in the east and throughout the state,” said LaKesha Alston, associate provost for Equity and Diversity.

As an advocate for education, Harper spoke to the audience about the correlation between the high school dropout rates and the percentage of youth in prison across the country. In Harper’s most recent book, “Letters To An Incarcerated Brother,” there is a letter written to Harper by an incarcerated 16-year-old male. He passionately read the letter to the audience as an example of how important support and a good education is for youths.

ECU student Jorge Almonte-Florimon enjoyed the excitement in Harper’s address. “The passion, energy and powerful expressions that he shared with the crowd kept people thinking,” said Almonte-Florimon.

Harper also spoke to about how passion, reasoning and critical thinking are needed to make dreams come true.

“I am hoping people understood the importance of striving for greatness,” said Kristopher Montford-Brown, a student and president of ECU’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Melissa Haithcox-Dennis, director of Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, said the event shows that ECU recognizes the life, legacy and impact of King’s work. “I think this type of event demonstrates…commitment to his ideals,” she said.

Harper’s speech centered on one of his favorite quotes by former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy: “The future does not belong to those who are fearful of bold projects and new ideas. But rather the future belongs to those who can blend passion, reason and courage.” Harper introduced this quote as what he believes best represents King’s message.

Harper emphasized the importance of being agitators and going against the normal, encouraging students to set fear aside. Harper himself went against tradition and spoke mostly from the crowd, rather than a podium, and challenged the audience to do things differently.

“Hill Harper’s dynamic approach to reminding us that we as a people are not indolent, that we are not invisible, that we do have a purpose and our potential effect is greater than what we give ourselves value for is certainly the most inspiring part of his message,” said student Tyree Barnes.

The Office for Equity and Diversity, Ledonia Wright Cultural Center, Eta Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Student Activities Board sponsored this event.