Congressman James Clyburn Urges Participation and Commitment
During his appearance at Goodwin College on September 22, celebrated civil rights icon Congressman James E. Clyburn told nearly 300 students, faculty, and staff that it’s important to never stop trying when something is really important.
“In life, you are never out until it’s lights out,” Clyburn told the audience. “I want you to remember what your parents and grandparents told you: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.’”
Clyburn, the nation’s highest ranking African American in the U.S. Congress, came to the Goodwin College Auditorium for a conversation about his recently published memoir, Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black. The book is an account of the civil rights leader’s experiences in the Jim Crow-era South, from his humble beginnings as the eldest son of an activist fundamentalist minister and an independent civic-minded beautician all the way to becoming one of the country’s most well-respected voices on equality and government.
“That’s what this book is all about,” Clyburn said of finding blessings in even the most difficult of times. “Sharing those experiences that I think are important.”
The congressman urged the assembled students to never stop trying to achieve great things, and to make positive contributions to their world. He used the examples of Jonas Salk, who discovered and developed the vaccine for polio, and John Lundy, who developed a method to refrigerate and store blood for transfusions, as examples of individuals who had contributed to society.
“Nobody cares what their skin color was,” Clyburn said of Salk and Lundy. “They care that they made contributions to society.”
Clyburn also urged the audience to participate in democracy, and vote not just in large presidential elections but also in small, municipal elections. He said that it was the small, day-to-day elections that help to set the tone of the nation.
“It is our participation that keeps the country centered,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn was introduced by Congressman John Larson, who said that he was proud that Goodwin College was able to host so many recent influential, amazing individuals.
“I’m extremely proud of Goodwin College,” Larson said.
Larson said that by hosting speakers such as Clyburn and Rep. John Lewis, who spoke at the College’s graduation in June, Goodwin was doing its part to create an engaged and diverse environment.
“Diversity is a great thing,” Larson said, “but diversity that is not enthusiastically engaged is just a lot of people with different view points.”