Educator/Activist Keynotes MLK Memorial Program

Seen here celebrating Northwell Health’s 46 Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day event are Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, keynote speaker; Barbara Felker, VP, Diversity & Community Engagement, Northwell Health; Michael Dowling, President and CEO, Northwell Health

MANHASSET, NY -- For the 46th consecutive year, Northwell Health employees gathered to honor the teachings and vision of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The ceremony, held at North Shore University Hospital’s Rust Auditorium, was simulcast to other Northwell facilities across the New York/ metro area.

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of UMBC (The University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and a child leader in the civil rights movement, who was featured in Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary, Four Little Girls, the story of the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. His presentation focused on the importance of inspiring young people to take action.

Dr. Hrabowski spoke to students who had been invited to the event saying: “Each of us if the product of our childhood experiences. Think of it…what you do right now could determine what you do in the future.”

He then recounted his memories of hearing Dr. King speak for the first time as a 12-year-old boy in Birmingham. Following the tragic bombing at the 16th Street Church, he said he was determined to join other young students in a peaceful march through the streets of Birmingham. But first, he sought his parents’ permission to march.

“At first, they were against it. But the next day, my father gave his permission,” Dr. Hrabowski said. “They told me they prayed about it, but in the end, they supported me.”  That support from family and community is a cornerstone of his concept of empowering young people 

“On a day when we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King,” he said, “I would encourage our young people to dream big. Dream about the possibilities… decide what you want to do in life. And then, think about what it takes to reach that dream.  What I took away from the [civil rights] movement was the importance of dreaming about the possibilities,” he said. “Children have an enormous capacity to think and act. That’s what we want parents and teachers to remember.”

A noted researcher and author, Dr. Hrabowski’s research and publications focus on science and math education, with emphasis on minority participation and performance. He was recently named by President Obama to chair the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.  His latest book is Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement.

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