Students meet civil rights activist at first student leadership summit

Fred Gray Sandra Moreno and Taylor Toynes
Fred Gray Sandra Moreno and Taylor Toynes

Special to The Dallas Examiner

More than 200 area students learned about leadership and commitment from civil rights activist and attorney Fred Gray during a special event this month at Cedar Valley College. Two hundred Dallas County Promise students from 31 area high schools as well as students from the Dallas County Community College District, the University of North Texas at Dallas, Southern Methodist University and Prairie View A&M University attended the Promise program’s first student leadership summit.

The event showed Promise students the types of learning opportunities they will have in college and also introduced them to a leader in the civil rights movement during Black History Month.

Gray discussed his experiences growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, the obstacles he faced as a young Black man, and the value of going to college and becoming leaders in school and in their communities.

“You can do anything you want to do,” Gray said.

He also discussed the history of the civil rights movement and his role in that effort.

Among his many accomplishments, Gray worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., defended Rosa Parks, argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and at age 87 continues to take legal cases.

During a question-and-answer period, he responded to students’ inquiries and discussed his run for the Alabama Legislature, oppression and his experiences with the Alabama State Bar Association and the civil rights movement.

“I gave legal advice,” Gray recalled. “I was not a speaker or the spokesman. That’s why I wasn’t exposed to as much reprisal or physical abuse.”

Gray also told students that the Montgomery bus boycott was never called a “boycott” by anyone involved in the Civil Rights Movement on the Rosa Parks case “because it was against state statute to boycott a business.”

“Black lives matter,” he concluded. “Your lives matter.”

Students then spent part of the day discussing the issues of college access and attainment, economic opportunity and poverty in Dallas County.

About Dallas County Promise

Dallas County Promise is a program designed to increase college completion aligned with the North Texas job market. DCCCD students who are members of the two-year academic honorary Phi Theta Kappa helped organize and plan the summit, and they also led discussions with Promise students after Gray’s presentation.

The program is a last-dollar scholarship funded by the DCCCD Foundation with matching scholarships from partner universities. The program was started in fall 2017 to help drive equity in college and economic outcomes across 31 high schools, representing 9,300 high school seniors. This transformational effort between school districts, colleges, universities, workforce and communities seeks to increase college completion and develop a pipeline of world-class talent, which creates equity in outcomes for students, families and the community.

Through partnerships and community effort, all Promise students have made a pledge to receive free college tuition through DCCCD with an option to transfer and earn bachelor’s degrees aligned with the best jobs in North Texas. Every student in the program will have a college success coach, and a data tracking system will provide indicators that help identify needs and direct resources for Promise students.

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