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Black History Month speaker empowers students with five lessons

Michael TubbsMichael D. Tubbs is a community activist, a first-generation college graduate and executive director of the Phoenix Project, where he leads Stanford University undergraduates in mentoring minority youth throughout California. He started his powerful speech with a verse from Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again”:

“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)”

Tubbs’ appearance was sponsored by Tidewater Community College’s Office for Intercultural Learning as part of a series of Black History Month events. Born to a teen mother and incarcerated father, Tubbs climbed out of poverty to become a community leader and was recently elected to his region’s City Council.

Speaking, he noted, on the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, Tubbs encouraged students to get involved. “The problems we face – poverty, mass incarceration, homicide rates, drop-out rates – aren’t anything new,” he said. “If history teaches us anything, it’s that ordinary people can be giant slayers.”

From there, Tubbs started a modern-day retelling of David and Goliath highlighting five lessons for young, African-American students looking to advance the fight for civil rights.

1. Your limits are the ones you put on yourself.

“The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed,” said Tubbs, who encouraged students to believe in their own limitless potential.

2. Oftentimes young people lead the charge for real change.

“Youth gives us a sense of urgency,” said Tubbs, who started his political campaign before he even graduated from college. “You don’t have to live with the last generation’s problems. Assume responsibility for issues in your community – and take them on.”

3. You’re prepared for this.

Young people make the mistake of thinking they need experience to tackle social issues. Tubbs assured, “Your personal struggles make you ready.”

4. Expert opinion ain’t always so expert.

“The odds may be against you, but that doesn’t mean the odds are right. You’re here aren’t you? Many of you are in school despite children, work schedules, unsupportive parents – you’re still here. Don’t listen to the experts.”

5. You have to use what you have.

Too often, Tubbs warned, young people get caught up in the past instead of focusing on the future: “New giants mean new tactics.”

Perhaps the most powerful message from Tubbs was his insistence that new generations step out of the shadow of the past and forge their own path in the civil rights movement. Social issues such as childhood obesity, access to education and teenage pregnancy are examples of new barriers to overcome. “We keep looking back at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream,” Tubbs said. “But things have changed. Wake up! Let’s dream new dreams.”

He ended his address with a reference to rapper Tupac Shakur’s poem “The Rose that Grew from Concrete.” “Too many people focus on the rose,” he warned, “and not the concrete. Why does this rose have to grow in the concrete? You have to address the barriers because there are a whole bunch of rose seeds buried in the dirt not growing.”