Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, urged students to get involved in the affirmative action and civil rights movements in the Marvin Center Continental Ballroom Wednesday night.
Mfume said that universities should foster social activism.
“They don’t exist just to give you a degree, they exist to get you to think,” he said.
He encouraged people to be vocal when they see problems in the world, saying “It’s OK to speak up.”
Mfume has headed the NAACP since 1996, following a career that included 10 years as a member of the House of Representatives and seven in the Baltimore, Md., government.
GW’s chapter of the NAACP hosted the event, which drew about 225 people.
Mfume told the group that problems such as racism and sexism “only continue to exist from the deafening silence of those who say ‘You don’t want to deal with that, you want to go to school and get a degree.'” Mfume also addressed the incarceration of minorities. He said that when students see that poorer people get harsher sentences, “it’s OK to speak up and have a problem with that.
“You are the brain trust of the generation, those who are not incarcerated, those who are not on the street … You are the ones who are going to make the change,” he added.
Mfume said that one of the main tasks students should undertake is to “find a way to redefine what a man is and what a woman is based on functional definitions.”
He said rap music has skewed society’s definition of men and women.
“Your name is not ‘bitch,’ your name is not ‘ho,’ it’s none of them,” he said.
Discerning between the “truth and the trick” is important in today’s society, Mfume said. He slammed the George W. Bush administration for claiming it knew Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which has yet to be proven.
“Many people want to see a new Iraq, but we also want to see new roads in D.C.,” he said to applause.
While student involvement in social equality movements has been on the decline in recent years, Mfume said he was proud to see the number of students who urged the Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action in April.
Mfume’s speech came the night before the NAACP’s “Take Affirmative Action Day,” which will encourage students at campuses nationwide to get involved in the affirmative action movement.