Freeman Hrabowski III, Ph.D., who marched for civil rights and is a leading voice for higher education for African Americans, will be the Wittenberg Series’ speaker for its Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation event on Monday, Jan. 20. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Educator, author to lead Wittenberg Series MLK Convocation

He could have settled on a claim to fame for being arrested and jailed for five days as a 12-year-old, inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., marching for civil rights in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., one of the most segregated cities in the country.

Upon release, King told the young man and others arrested that day in 1963 “What you do this day will have an impact on generations as yet unborn.”

Freeman Hrabowski III has spent nearly every day since inspiring others as a teacher, author, role model and advocate, having served as president at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for nearly 30 years. His other efforts have landed him a profile on “60 Minutes,” a spot on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and a slew of other honors and recognition.

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Hrabowski, who has a doctorate in higher education administrative/statistics, will draw from his latest books for the program “Holding Fast to Dreams: A 50-Year Experiment in Higher Education” as the Wittenberg Series’ Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation Speaker at 11:15 a.m. Monday at Wittenberg’s Weaver Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.

“We Southerners love stories. The message is knowing our stories and history helps us as we envision what we want tomorrow to be,” Hrabowski said. “Stories give us hope. Knowing our stories is important in allowing us to reflect where we’ve been and where we want to go.”

Hrabowski grew up in a middle class African American area with parents who were school teachers. His dad actually quit teaching to work in a steel mill to help his family. Education was always important to the young Hrabowski, who wanted to give that opportunity to others.

“We were always hearing about better schools and how we weren’t as good as white children. I simply wanted to be respected,” Hrabowski said.

His talk will touch on the importance of STEM schools and encouraging opportunities in those fields, as well as the liberal arts in being more informed to vote, to think critically and taking a role in active participation in how the country is run.

“Things in our country are messy, but we are still the most admired country in the world with the most advantages,” he said.

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While the U.S. has made progress in the last 55 years in college graduation rates, Hrabowski sees about two-thirds of American families having no college graduates and wants to see it grow.

As one of the biggest concerns facing younger Americans in the 21st Century has been the rising cost and debt of higher education, Hrabowski sees more advantages in pursuing these educational goals and effective ways to alleviate the costs.

“There’s a wide range of costs of institutions and it may not be as expensive as you may think. Secondly, our community colleges are impressive and offer opportunities,” he said.

He suggests getting to know the different higher-learning institutions, the costs and financial aid and financial opportunities.

“I am encouraging people to reflect on their own situations - who is first to go to college and what can we do to support them,” Hrabowski said. “Dream above possibilities. That’s the significance of Dr. King’s legacy, looking in the mirror and who do we see and what do we want to be.”

Hrabowski will also lead a question and answer session at 2:45 p.m. Monday in room 105 in the Joseph C. Shouvlin Center for Lifelong Learning on the Wittenberg campus.

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