TROY, Ala. – Times have changed for blacks in America, and without change there would be no reason to forge ahead in the areas of civil rights, cultural and societal initiatives.
That was the message that Pulitzer Prize winner Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, delivered as the closing keynote speaker at the Seventh Annual Leadership Conference Celebrating Black History Month presented by Troy University and the City of Troy.
Ms. Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. Her column “As I See It” is syndicated to more than 70 newspaper nationwide by Universal Press Syndicate. She is a graduate of Auburn University and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University for the 1988-89 academic year. In 2000, Tucker won the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award. In 2006, the National Association of Black Journalists selected her at its Journalist of the Year. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and again in 2006.
Recounting her youth in Monroeville, Ala., she said she had a sense of perspective to comment on the changes that have occurred in the South in terms of racial strife, civil rights advances and changing economics.
“If nothing has changed, then why bother,” she asked the audience of about 300 conference participants. “It’s dangerous if nothing has changed because it drains us of the faith and energy we need to forge ahead. …Things are a whole lot better.”
Saying that bigotry was a common issue for both blacks and whites – calling it “those ugly impulses to judge one another,” Ms. Tucker called for reform of the criminal justice system and argued that sentencing, legal representation and victims rights be moved to the forefront for action. She also encouraged participants and other groups to be mentors and teachers for those released from prison.
“We need the support of law-abiding citizens to show them the way,” she said.
Ms. Tucker added that racism is “not a one-way street flowing from white people to black people.”
“[Everyone] has a full range of human emotions including bigotry,” she said. “Think about that and then get over it,” she said, citing examples of bigotry and intolerance to those of different religions and Latin American immigrants.
“We can triumph over that with faith and hard work and prayer, and with that determination, yes we can [overcome racism] and build bridges to other races and religions,” she said.
The conference, themed “Cultural Diversity and Leadership Opportunities,” opened Friday night with an address by former Birmingham Mayor Dr. Richard Arrington, the city’s first black mayor, who told conferees that the world has indeed changed through globalization and cultural diversity.
“If we are to succeed as a country, we must embrace social and economic change,” he said. “It is a different Alabama and a different world today than the one I grew up in.”
Dr. Arrington challenged the participants to build trust among all people, seek wisdom and develop courage.