On March 8, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski visited Mt. Hebron to discuss diversity and the role it has in the school’s community. Dr. Hrabowski is the President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is a world-renowned leader in education and empowerment. Spending his youth as a child leader in the civil rights movement and later becoming a pioneer in the STEM fields, Dr. Hrabowski is a champion of young people everywhere and serves as an example of where hard work and dedication can lead.
Named as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012 by TIME Magazine, Dr. Hrabowski has completely transformed UMBC into one of the nation’s top and most innovative schools in the STEM field. Among numerous other achievements and positions, his work as President of UMBC and his involvement within the African-American community has earned him the honor of serving on the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans under the Obama administration. Dr. Hrabowski is also an accomplished co-author of Beating the Odds and Overcoming the Odds as well as Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement, which focuses on empowering African-Americans in pursuit of careers in STEM.
As Dr. Hrabowski began addressing Mt. Hebron’s students and faculty, he discussed the impact his experiences as a child leader during the civil rights’ movement had on him. He spoke about sitting in the back of a church in Birmingham when he was twelve and listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who remarked that if children were to participate in a peaceful protest, people would know the difference between right and wrong. This message resonated with Dr. Hrabowski, who participated in the Children’s Crusade with Dr. King.
Dr. Hrabowski then urged the students of Mt. Hebron to further represent Dr. King’s dream, saying, “You are the future of America. Ask how, I, as a leader, can make a difference.”
When asked how the students of Mt. Hebron could take their positions as leaders and use them to unite the school and create a more cohesive community, Dr. Hrabowski focused on what he believes to be the most important principle for unity: respect. He encouraged students to “look with an open mind and an open heart to understand the human condition,” he said. He stressed the importance of fostering an environment where respecting others, even others with differing opinions, should be a priority and that discussions must be able to be held knowing that no one will be attacked when disagreement occurs.
Dr. Hrabowski emphasized that there is a need for a high level of trust in Mt. Hebron — “Every person has a challenge and a point of view that needs to be considered,” he said — but that conversation is best when people start on their common ground and say what they truly feel.
Senior Angela Scafidi felt that this portion of Dr. Hrabowski’s speech was his most important message.
“We all need to try to listen to each other and be more understanding,” Scafidi said. “The more we can open up and truly hear one another, the better off we will be.”
Indeed, students and staff were captivated by Dr. Hrabowski‘s message of unity. And although Dr. Hrabowski has spoken to different groups of people around the world, he said he was equally amazed with the student body at Mt. Hebron.
“There are some students that have felt unwelcomed, others welcomed. I’ve been impressed by students wanting to pull together and being honest in saying they don’t necessarily know how to do that, and that there’s a need for people to help them come together, as a group, and as different groups, to discuss what is bothering them, whatever they have misunderstandings about, and most importantly, to figure out how to unify people with the same common goal of supporting and respecting each other,” Dr. Hrabowski said.
“I didn’t see any face in here that suggested to me anything other than the fact that I want to be the kind of person that supports other people,” he continued. “People just have to learn, as we as Americans have to learn, how to do that. So I was very impressed by the audience’s seriousness, their sincerity, and most importantly, their sense of hope. This is what you have that is so much better than my generation. I did not feel a sense of cynicism. There was more hope that we can figure this out.”
As Dr. Hrabowski concluded his speech reflecting on the power of respect, leadership, and hope, he led students in a reading of one of his favorite and most powerful quotes. Students repeated after him as he said, “Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”