Former USDA official Sherrod delivers keynote address at 12th Annual Carver Convocation
TUSKEGEE, Ala. (January 28, 2011) — Shirley Sherrod, former Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, served as keynote speaker for the 12th Annual George Washington Carver Convocation on Friday, Jan. 28 in the University Chapel. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff, and community members were present. Also visiting were students from Carver Jr. High School (Spartanburg, S.C.).
“Carver was one of the greatest scientists to ever live,” Sherrod said. “There are so many lessons from him for us today. He and others like him didn’t have many advantages coming out of slavery, but education and land ownership were important to them.
“I wonder sometimes… as we work with what they left us, what are we doing with it?” They struggled so hard to pass things on to us. What will we pass on to our children?”
Sherrod, whose father was murdered when she was a teenager, went on to talk about how the past can mirror the present. She recalled the 1943 beating death of Bobby Hall in Newton, Ga. The Department of Justice intervened in the case by charging Sheriff Claude Screws and his deputies not with murder, but with violating the civil rights of Hall. She compared this to the 1991 beating and subsequent trials of the police officers charged in the Rodney King case in Los Angeles.
Sherrod said she had a calling to stay in the South.
“I asked God what I could do in response to all this,” she said. “My answer was to, ‘Just stay in the South and devote your life to help make a difference.’”
She stressed that agriculture is “not just about picking cotton and shaking peanuts… they have machines for that now.”
“This is a new day,” she said. “Someone has to furnish the food, add value to it and be involved in planning. Carver talked about this.”
Sherrod, who was blasted with media, political and organizational scrutiny for comments she made in 2010, talked about racism and its effects today.
“We have to look past those who want to keep us divided,” she said. “We have to make our communities better. We’ve suffered enough.”
Sherrod challenged students to contribute to their respective communities as they accomplish their educational and career objectives.
“You must share your knowledge, time and even some of your money,” she said. “Don’t just think of yourself. Wherever you decide to live, make it the best place in the world. As you strive to reach the top, think of who else you can bring with you.”
Sherrod closed by quoting Carver: “‘When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you'll command the attention of the world.’ Let’s go out and get the world’s attention.”