Today's young people must be willing to take leadership roles as Martin Luther King Jr. did to be effective leaders in the 1990s, panelists said Monday night at Kansas University.
"There (currently) is no charismatic individual like Dr. King they only come around once," said Jesse Milan, a Kansas City, Kan., civil rights activist who was the first black to teach elementary school in Lawrence in 1954.
"Change will not happen until you make the change," he said. "If you're one of those people who are skipping classes or sniffing up snow, forget it, you're not going to be a leader."
Milan made the comments during a panel discussion Monday night at Watkins Scholarship Hall at KU as part of local Martin Luther King Jr. holiday activities. The discussion was sponsored by University Scholarship Halls for Ethnic Reality, a student organization.
ABOUT 50 people packed the main living area of the scholarship hall to hear Milan and panelists Barbara Ballard, director of the Emily Taylor Women's Resource Center and acting dean of student life; and Frank White, a KU junior from Kansas City, Mo.
The discussion covered several topics, including the state of black leadership in America, racist attitudes, and education and economic opportunities for blacks, women and other minorities.
Along with Milan, Ballard and White said there currently is no single significant black leader in America today.
Ballard said black leadership in America exists on various levels.
"We have the black caucuses in Congrees . . . and I think we've shifted a lot to the local level," she said.
However, White said he did not believe effective black leadership currently exists.
"PEOPLE are too complacent," he said. "You don't find a lot of leaders who will be what they say they are."
"It's up to each one of you," he told the audience.
Milan said racist attitudes still exist in Lawrence and in the nation as a whole.
Changing those attitudes, he said, will require changing the language and other tools that can divide groups.
For example, Milan said that downtown Kansas City used to be called simply "the city," but "after all the whites moved out, then it's called `the inner city.' That's a way of dividing people."
Speakers also said race relations are strained because of the current economic recession.
"People are mad and they're looking for someone to blame," Ballard said. "That's why you see a rise in all these hate groups and people like David Duke."
Ballard said it is important for students to take advantage of their opportunities at KU.
She challenged participants to take advantage of the multicultural environment at KU.