Actress uplifts crowd during MLK luncheon

Bobby Shipman

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Jasmine Guy became enraged when she heard someone call President Barrack Obama “clean and articulate” while working on his first campaign trail – as if an educated black man were some sort of oddity.

“Don’t let them tell you this man is a freak of nature. He comes from other men like him. He comes from a lineage,” Guy said. “Martin Luther King Jr. did not come from share-croppers. I know that makes a cool ‘rags to riches’ story, but he comes from educated generations of black men.”

Guy, who is most notable for her portrayal of southern belle Whitley Gilbert on “The Cosby Show” spin-off “A Different World,”  spoke at the annual USI MLK Luncheon Monday in Carter Hall.

The show, which ran for six seasons on NBC, focused on the life of students at Hillman College.

Guy’s filmography includes the TV series “The Vampire Diaries,” and movies like “Harlem Nights,” “Diamond Men” and “October Baby.”

Dancing and directing also top Guy’s list of credentials.

A few years back, Guy directed an opera about Martin Luther King Jr.

To keep the story truthful, she said she wanted to begin with a montage of scenes portraying a man whipping another man, a young women being raped and an abortion – showing the life Martin Luther King Jr. was born into.

She said the show’s producers were hesitant to allow such graphic images.

“Where is the courage in not taking the risks?” Guy said.

Guy said history is not taught properly.

“We are still teaching our history in a segregated way and I think it’s because we are still ashamed,” she said. “But we need to know because we need to be afraid of where we can go as human beings.”

Many young people today don’t realize how young the individuals were who stood out against adversity and changed the country.

“Even though he was the leader of a movement, Martin Luther King was not alone,” Guy said. “It took thousands, millions of young people to make the changes happen in this country.”

Junior public relations and advertising major Niasha Shaw agrees history is not received properly in our generation.

“We only see blacks and whites in the story, but it was way more than that,” Shaw said. “It was race, color, creed – all the things Dr. Martin Luther King stood for.”

Shaw said Martin Luther King Day is about continuing to move forward.

“We have made progress,” she said. “But there is still more work to be done.”

Shaw said minority groups are not as aware of USI, and the university needs to diversify enrollment.

Diversity is not the only subject Guy’s speech touched on, though.

Guy also advocates the rehabilitation of girls caught in the harsh world of sex trafficking.

She and a friend founded “I Am Not Yours,” a company that sells T-shirts, raising funds for organizations that help protect and spread awareness for young girls involved.

“Right now the girls are being prosecuted for prostitution when they are underage, but the Johns are not arrested for kidnapping and pimping these girls,” she said. “So these girls start their lives not only as victims of sexual abuse, but with a record.”

“I Am Not Yours” raises funds to remove young girls from “the life,” as they call it, and expunge their records.

To order shirts, visit

The MLK luncheon also featured a tribute to Nelson Mandela, performances from USI’s gospel choir, Children’s Center for Dance Education and a final performance by drum line Amadeus Percussions.

Sophomore Briante Melton thought Guy’s presentation dug down deep and personal.

“She really pushed us to dig deeper into society and figure out what problems we need to figure out and solve them,” Melton said. “It starts with us.”

Melton said she loved Guy’s explanation of how King was a normal person just like us.

As a social work major, Melton seeks to work in family/child counseling and said Guy inspired her to be a role model for the younger generation and to make a difference in their lives.

“Sometimes being an African-American – it’s really hard to see how far we have come as people,” she said.  “MLK Day really symbolizes how far we have come.”

Melton said she hopes USI can embrace its diversity.

Joshua Academy Principal Pam Decker said she thinks our generation needs to contemplate what they can leave behind for future generations.

Decker’s father, who was also a Methodist minister, marched with King in Washington D.C., she said, and taught her to stay active within the community.

“I was taught as a young person that we were put here to make a difference,” Decker said. “And that is what I have always strived to do.”

Ten students from Joshua Academy attended the MLK luncheon, as well as participated in the activities that followed.

Before the luncheon, Jasmine Guy met students at Joshua Academy.

“I was worried they were not going to know who I am,” she said. “I interacted with them, I didn’t speak at them, and they asked questions. They were really bright.”

Guy said she too attended public schools all her life. She believes parents should work on education within their homes so kids learn more than the basics.

“That’s what makes us human beings – not just learning the academic fundamentals,” Guy said. “We need art, we need strength, we need love, we need beauty and we need creativity. I think we should also study South African history and the apartheid and understand what’s happening in Egypt,” she said. “We need to talk about revolutionary behavior.”

George Washington Carver did 1,000 things with the peanut, but it doesn’t show how he lived. Many youth today are oblivious to the hardships of previous generations, she said.

“I grew up with (MLK day) not being a holiday, so I was actually a part of that movement to get this to become a celebration of service of his profound sense of riotousness and equality,” she said.

Heroes do not just exist in history. They can be found every day.

Guy said she always looks for heroes in her life.

“We should always find the best person and use what they have for inspiration,” she said. “Their ability to work with other people and garnish from them their life – what they have to offer. It makes our life that much bigger.”

Guy asked everyone to not wait on a hero but to strive for change on his or her own.

“We all have within us the ability to facilitate change or stand up for justice,” she said. “It may not be a million people in Washington – it may be in our household, it may be in our classroom and it may be just us.”