Civil rights activist speaks of change

It’s easy to celebrate a great idea, civil rights activist Richard Lapchick reminded DU listeners Monday. The hard part is deciding what to do “tomorrow or the day after.”

Lapchick has a suggestion.

“Take one small step of action and you’ll begin a chain of reactions,” he said. “It’s never, ever too late” to change a “core value of hate.”

The appeal capped a vivid sketch of race problems in America with which Lapchick captivated about 100 DU students, faculty and staff Jan. 14 at the Champions for Diversity luncheon.

Lapchick spoke of racial injustice and violence — including a brutal assault that left a racial slur carved in his stomach — drawn from a lifetime fighting for equality in sports and society. 

He spoke of how hotels, restaurants and even gas stations would discriminate against black professional basketball players in the early days of the NBA, when his father, Joe Lapchick, was head coach of the New York Knickerbockers.

He spoke of the injustice of apartheid, the tragedy of the Columbine killings and the racial terror sown by the Virginia Tech shootings.

He told of the “disgraceful way” poor, black Katrina victims were treated in the aftermath of the hurricane and spoke of the pain brought on by drugs and exacerbated by blocked opportunity.

Yet, for each vision of despair was a coordinate story of hope. He related the simple, effective way Eddie Robinson, the legendary coach at Grambling, communicated to his football players the virtue of love. Every day after lunch, Robinson would walk from his home to the practice field hand in hand with his wife, Doris, so his players could see the dignity of love.

It was a demonstration that Dr. King would have appreciated, said Lapchick (MA ’70, PhD ’73, international studies). 

“There’s something about sports that can bring us together,” he reminded. “It’s the miracle of the team. You’re not going to win unless you pull together as a team.”

The theme resonated, especially with Chancellor Robert Coombe, who pledged that diversity at DU would remain a top priority “until we build the inclusive, diverse community we want to be.”

“It’s important to recognize the incredible human richness,” the chancellor said early in the luncheon. “And it’s our duty to extract that talent and bring it to bear.”

“It’s about more than inclusion,” he noted. “It’s about binding it up together in a single community.”

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