Lewis Diuguid

August 11, 2013

College to fuel future civil rights progress

Joe Seabrooks counts himself among those who benefited from the path that the “babies of the movement” created. “I had the privilege of following extremely talented African-American men,” said Seabrooks, the president of Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley.

African-American baby boomers in this column series have credited the civil rights movement with changing laws and opening doors for them.

Joe Seabrooks said he’s a beneficiary of the path that the “babies of the movement” created. “I had the privilege of following extremely talented African-American men,” said Seabrooks, the president of Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley.

They included Ernest Middleton, former director of minority affairs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; Malcolm Wilson, former president of MCC-Blue River; Bernard Franklin, who had been president of MCC-Penn Valley.

“I am a product of those sacrifices and talents,” said Seabrooks, 41, whose career path has followed those individuals. “My best fantasy of what my life could be doesn’t come close to how my life has evolved.”

It has had some rocky moments, such as his parents’ break up when he was 11.

“That was a turning point and a transition for me,” said Seabrooks, who’s from Atlanta. “I had to grow up faster than I wanted to.”

The family went from a house to an apartment. But nearby was a basketball court, where Seabrooks channeled his energy. At six feet, five inches, he studied NBA players, their slam-dunks and vital statistics. He incorporated that into his game.

Seabrooks saw that college offered a better future than auto plants and factory work, where a lot of guys went after high school. Many of those plants are closed now.

Seabrooks picked UMKC, where he played and lettered four years for the Roos. He realized the NBA wasn’t in his future, but a Ph. D. was.

“What I was blessed with was a sharp mind,” Seabrooks said. “I’ve always been this analysis cat.”

He understood the role of young people in the civil rights movement. Many were college students. With the leadership of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, they forced the laws to change, doors of more colleges to open and blacks to be hired in positions that King and others only dreamed of 50 years ago. But Seabrooks worries about young people now.

They don’t see how being in college is tied to civil rights sacrifices. Seabrooks also is concerned that young people today live in their own personal bubble.

They’re wired to earbuds, smartphones and other electronic devices connected to a corporate media that has radically reduced the diversity of voices and thoughts that used to benefit society. What’s striking is young people don’t realize how things have changed.

“It’s painful for them to be engaged in an environment with others,” said Seabrooks, who joins others for this column series looking at 50 years of civil rights advances while sharing a vision for the next half-century.

College is more than attending lectures, reading books, handing in papers and taking tests. Much of students’ maturation occurs outside of class. Often young people are in a common space, but “there’s no interaction,” Seabrooks said. Employers are seeing it as opportunities lost.

Networking fueled the civil rights movement. It still generates new ideas. But it’s being drowned out by media noise.

“It’s easy, it’s safe but it’s cheating them out of a world that’s bigger than those fantasies and entertainment,” Seabrooks said. “When it’s time to experience the real world, young people don’t know how to function.”

Colleges have to change that. Also in the next 50 years, African-Americans have to concentrate on building wealth to create a financial legacy for future generations.

Blacks must take advantage of the information age and the real opportunity. “There are no secrets that should be held from you,” he said. Their diets also must be more nutritious accompanied with exercise to keep their minds and bodies sharp. Soft drinks and fast foods ensure health problems. Seabrooks wants people of color to be part of a better future. “I hope that 50 years from now it will be beyond anyone’s imagination,” he said.

Those seeds for tomorrow, however, must be sown today.

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