Academy Award-winner earns standing ovation as keynote speaker

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by Tyler Brown)
(Photo by Tyler Brown)
Louis Gossett Jr. speaks in the Wildcat Theater on Thursday.

The Wildcat Theater was crowded on Thursday morning as students and faculty attended the presentation of Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. Hosted by the Weber State University Center for Diversity & Unity, Gossett was the keynote speaker for the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Most famous for his role in the 1977 miniseries “Roots,” Gossett discussed the Eracism Foundation Inc., which he founded in January of 2006. The Eracism Foundation focuses mainly on educating and mentoring children of diverse cultural backgrounds and communities.

Speaking of the sacrifices such families have encountered, he said, “There was a pride in these children that was consciously taken away . . . (but) that was then, this is now. We’ve got to put it back.”

Talking more about the importance of helping all children, Gossett said, “There’s a gap that has to be filled . . . to replace misinformation so they can walk a better life . . . (The children) don’t know where they come from. They don’t find it in the books, the classrooms . . . so they don’t think they belong properly.”

Gossett told many stories about growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where his grandmother played a large role in his life, making sure he was being the best he could. While still a student at Abraham Lincoln High School, Gossett was cast in Broadway’s “Take a Giant Step” in 1954, which was later acclaimed by The New York Times as one of the top 10 plays of that year. As his career progressed, he encountered many people who “didn’t want me there . . . but ended up as friends. I made some surprising friends.”

Recounting stories of costumers, makeup artists and policemen, Gossett spoke of the way he was treated. He recounted a story of a very nice rental car he was given for the 20-minute drive from the airport to the hotel.

“It took me four hours,” he said. “I was just cruising down the road, and the (police-car) lights behind me would start . . .”

Reiterating the importance of the children in everyone’s lives, Gossett said, “The way to help our children is to tell them when they’ve gone too far . . . They’ve got no one telling them that. The younger generation . . . (was) never taught to learn. We can’t blame them for something that wasn’t their fault. They were never taught. We need to teach them to need each other . . . to have compassion for each other.”

At the end of his presentation, Gossett opened up to the audience for questions and photographs. One WSU student commented that he’d “been looking forward to this all week, and I learned something that I didn’t know.”

Professor Natalie Williams of the WSU Teacher Education Department said she was very impressed with Gossett’s presentation.

“I’m sad that more people didn’t get to hear what he had to say,” she said. “I think that the idea that we have to return to our roots, that we are who we are because of the ways we were raised . . . we need to be careful not to disregard that when working with people. I just want to go out and change world.”

Gossett ended his presentation to a standing ovation from the crowd of students, faculty and members of the community. He is the recipient of the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission’s 2013 Drum Major Award, and will be attending the luncheon in his honor at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 18. More information about the Eracism Foundation is available at