Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch paid the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff a visit on Thursday as a part of the school’s Welcome Week festivities and was the first of many to address students during the school’s annual lecture series.
Students, faculty, local officials and a large number of the 83rd Attorney General’s sorority members filled every seat of UAPB’s Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center when Lynch arrived to speak at 11 a.m.
Among those present were Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Arkansas House of Representative for District 17 Vivian Flowers, who showed support for Lynch’s first-time visit to the city.
Graduating from Harvard Law School and practicing law for a number of years, Lynch was eventually appointed to serve as the first black female U.S. attorney general under the Barack Obama presidential administration.
Lynch’s speech was centered on the importance of youths, in which she stressed that by attending the event, local officials were supporting them. As a strong advocate for equality and civil rights for people of all races, Lynch took a moment to remind students of UAPB’s history.
During a time when education was a luxury for most southern African-Americans, according to Lynch, it was and still is imperative that youths treat their education as a tool to get ahead.
“I hope students don’t treat education as memorization,” Lynch said. “Back then, it was a way of life, a way to command your destiny and control your own life.”
Switching to a more nationally-recognized topic — civil rights — Lynch said that a major driving force behind events like the civil rights movement and, more recently, the #MeToo movement, was the coming forth of many youths who weren’t afraid to fight for what was right.
According to Lynch, it is as simple as youths around the nation raising their voices in instances of injustice. They can get involved in organizations to begin rallying around their various causes, she said.
Speaking on recent happenings in pop culture, such as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his controversial decision to kneel during the national anthem, Lynch said it is a matter of history repeating itself.
Years ago when the country was in a battle for equal rights, there were claims that minorities were taking available jobs by providing cheap labor. For minorities, getting proper voter IDs was a difficult task, and their safety was also in jeopardy — prevailing problems that Lynch said are making their way back into the limelight today.
According to Lynch, the suppressing of the once-viral image of Kaepernick kneeling in protest to police brutality is a way to remove the public from the images of victims like Eric Garner, who was choked to death during an a police run-in in Staten Island, New York.
“The strength of the backlash is directly proportionate to the power it is trying to take down,” Lynch said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Despite the many forms of oppression faced by minorities, Lynch emphasized that this should not hinder one’s fight.
“African-Americans have seen this before … the history of trying to close doors that have been forced open,” Lynch said. “We built it. We made it. We inspire it. We provide the soundtrack for it. We dress it. This is our house.”
Challenging students to get involved with politics in order to reverse the effects of oppression, Lynch provided a three-step formula for locals to implement in their own communities.
Actions such as writing letters to Congress, listening, being tolerant of other people’s voices and being politically present on ballots or in voting booths are vital to improving the quality of life for many, Lynch said.
“The life you’re building is your life to build,” she said. “Sometimes the race itself is the victory.”
Lynch said that it takes all hands to keep the nation’s democracy steady and true, and she encouraged the community of Pine Bluff to come together for support, inspiration and resources.
Lynch left the crowd with a parting quote by Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Only when it is dark enough can we see the stars.”