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Hooper: Spelman's president schools us all at Tampa MLK Breakfast

Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell explains why education will be even more important in a harsher future.
Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell spoke at the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs's 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast on Monday.
Published Jan. 23

TAMPA — The educator educated.

Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell came to deliver lessons at Tampa Organization of Black Affairs's 39th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast on Monday, and when her "class" ended more than 1,000 people walked away with a greater sense of urgency about "universal access to educational excellence."

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Having served as a leader in education and the arts for nearly 40 years, Campbell conceded a degree of bias when choosing where to focus her call to action. Yet she insisted universal access to educational excellence — not just education — as a "path to political power, multigenerational social mobility and economic liberation."

Campbell echoed King's words from his "I Have A Dream" speech to issue a new challenge:

"I have no doubt that if Dr. King were here now, and he was presented with the facts, he would agree now that when it comes to education, too many members of our community have been given a check marked insufficient funds," Campbell said, drawing applause.

Then she took us to class.

Campbell laid out the argument that the impending technological revolution, driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, robotics and advances in biotechnology, may eliminate 80 million unskilled jobs.

Sidenote: They're even designing computers to write columns. Yikes.

Futurists, Campbell said, predict the revolution will not only eliminate unskilled jobs but fail to replace them. It will put a premium on jobs that will require advanced education for those aspiring to hold leadership roles and make decisions on how the technology will impact society.

Campbell said black and Latino students are lagging behind all other students when it comes to college completion rates. Blacks who started college in 2010 have the lowest six-year completion rate at 38 percent. For Hispanics it's 45.8 percent. For whites, it's 62 percent.

While some suggest educators are guilty of putting too much of an emphasis on higher education, Campbell called those figures startling because a four-year college education is an engine of social mobility and a predictor of future wealth.

"When I read a 2017 article from Forbes.com that predicts that the net worth of black and Latino families will decline to zero by mid century … it makes me suspect that lagging college completion rates play a major role in this decline," she said. "But these are trends — they're not realities — they're trends in the 21st century."

The former dean of the Tisch School of Arts at New York University choose five areas of emphasis to reverse those trends: early childhood education, boosting math proficiency, increased educational support from state governments, improved teacher pay and aiming for 100 percent literacy for public school students.

Campbell concluded by highlighting the virtues of Spelman, a women's college on the west end of Atlanta, and one of the nation's best historically black colleges.

As she noted, successful institutions that mirror King's vision of the "beloved community" must be celebrated. And supported.

So, the teacher taught, the students learned. I can only hope the lessons are applied.

That's all I'm saying.

TOBA gives out awards at MLK event

TOBA handed out several awards at its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast on Monday. Visit Tampa Bay and CEO Santiago Corrada received the Corporate Leadership Award, Albert Lee of the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation was presented with the Ike Tribble Leadership Award and Florence Gainer of the Open Cafe received the Unsung Hero Award. The Jetie B. Wilds Youth Leadership and Community Service Scholarship winners were Blake High's Derricka Whyte and John Daway and Middleton High's Blaque Jarvis and Joshua Campbell.

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