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Livingstone students urged to focus on excellence

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
CHARLOTTE ó Hundreds of young African-American males and females were encouraged Friday to make academic excellence a priority, stay focused and never lose sight of their aspirations. And those were just three of the messages shared with them during a symposium being at The Park.
The symposium is designed to introduce young males and females of color to positive men and women of color who have done well academically and achieved success. It is part of The Third Annual Commemorative Classic, which pits Livingstone College against Johnson C. Smith University, schools with the distinction of having played in the first organized black college football game on Dec. 27, 1892. The historic contest was played in the snow on Livingstone Collegeís front lawn, and Johnson C. Smith ó then named Biddle Memorial Institute ó won the defensive struggle 5-0.
On Friday, symposium speakers included Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins, known as ěThe Three Doctors.î The men, who grew up in Newark, N.J., made a pact as teenagers that they would stick together, attend college, graduate and become doctors. Other Friday speakers included: Victor Galloway, director of research, public policy and executive education series for the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development; Lt. Col. Ronald Thornton Jr., a U.S. Marines Corps and Delta Airlines pilot; Reginald J. Johnson, who designs and implements marketing, sales, business development and political campaign programs for Fortune 500 companies; Dr. Samuel Lopez, director of multicultural academic services at UNC Charlotte and Sylvester Kyles, director of The Bridge Program at Livingstone College.
ěThereís a rite of passage here,î Davis, a board-certified emergency medicine physician at St. Michaels Medical Center and Raritan Bay Medical Center, told the high school and college students Friday morning during a general session. ěThe older statesmen and stateswomen are passing on a legacy to you that is priceless.
ěCollege is by far the best experience of your life. Weíve seen the other side. We lived the other side and itís not pretty.î
Davis was followed by Jenkins, an assistant professor of clinical dentistry at Columbia University.
ěWhat you see in front of you can be your future,î Jenkins said. ěYour future is in your hands. Your future is in your hands to be shaped and molded into what you can visualize. If you want a nice home, a nice car, multiple cars, to travel the world, to be in control of your future financially, thatís up to you. Work towards it.î
Hunt, a board-certified internist at University Medical Center at Princeton and assistant professor of medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, told the students about a disturbing show he watched on A&E in which a young black male talked matter-of-factly about shooting another young black male to death. Clearly, the young man lacked positive role models, Hunt said.
ěEverybody has role models,î Hunt said. ěYouíve just got to pick the right ones. If you pick the wrong person youíre going to be doing things like that person. That boy I saw on A&E is doing 25 years to life.î
Hunt implored the students to ěmake a pact with your friends and stick it out and look for the right role models for yourselves.î
During Kylesí break-out session he told students rap music can have a negative influence on their lives.
ěThis discussion is about hip-hop and its powerful influence,î Kyles said. ěHip-hop artists have powerful images with powerful impacts because they influence some of the decisions young people make.
ěSome of you are using slang and foul language as a result of hip-hop and you donít know anything about speaking standard English. And thatís going to destroy you when you finish high school and finish college. You have to bring out the positive of hip-hop and put away some of the negative stuff, like lyrics calling women Bís.î
Several hours after the symposium ended, a Commemorative Classic Hall of Fame Banquet was held at the Hilton Charlotte Center City. Businessman Larry Lee Jr., a 1976 Livingstone College graduate who went on to play football for the NFLís Denver Broncos, and Elroy Duncan, a 1972 Johnson C. Smith University graduate who quarterbacked for the Golden Bulls, were inducted.
Before their inductions, Hall of Fame rings were awarded to Larry Melton of Livingstone College and Pettis Norman of Johnson C. Smith, the first two men to be inducted into the Commemorative Classic Hall of Fame. Melton, a 1972 Livingstone graduate, played briefly for The Washington Redskins. Pettis, a 1962 JSCU graduate, played nine seasons for The Dallas Cowboys.
Pettis was unable to attend the ceremony.
ěLivingstone was the only school that gave me a shot,î Lee said in his induction speech. ěAnd I graduated from Livingstone with honors. We have a unique thing here at our HBCUs, and this is history.î
Lee ended his remarks by challenging the football players from Livingstone and Smith to strive for excellence.
ěAlways strive to get on top in life because itís the bottom thatís overcrowded,î he said. ěAnd if youíre not on the way youíre in the way. The greatest thing you young men can do for your coaches and your teachers is when you grow older represent your schools well…î
Duncan, who got emotional several times during his speech, said he was proud to have attended a predominantly black university.
ěJohnson C. Smith has been everything to me,î Duncan said. ěIíve got blue and gold blood running through me. Most of my games were played where you are going to play tomorrow, Memorial Stadium. But I tell you, if I could go to Ohio State or anywhere I would go to a CIAA school.î
Duncan encouraged the young men to focus, and not just on the gridiron.
ěFocus when you go in that classroom,î he said. ěIn life and going ahead, just be focused.î
The Commemorative Classic continues today with an Inspirational Breakfast at 8 a.m. featuring Dr. Bobby Jones, a Grammy-winning gospel artist who is host and executive producer of BETís ěBobby Jones Gospel.î Following the breakfast, Ed Gordon will speak to students. Gordon is an Emmy award-winning TV host who has been a correspondent for CBS newsmagazine ě60 Minutesî and a contributor for NBCís ěThe Today Showî and ěDateline.î
Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. and Elfred A. Pinkard, vice president and chief operating officer of Johnson C. Smith University will give closing remarks before the classic shifts to Memorial Stadium. A ěBattle of the Bandsî featuring both institutionsí marching bands will be held before the game, and there will also be a presentation of colors. Former American Idol winner and R&B crooner Ruben Studdard will sing the national anthem, and he will also perform at halftime. After the game, a championship trophy presentation will be held.

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