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Founder’s Week 2005

A Time for Love, Remembrance, Introspection
By Vickie G. Hampton and monet cooper

Shelton “Spike” Lee ’79, founder and president of 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks and Musicworks, is known for the hard-hitting messages of his award-winning films. But finding his voice--indeed, finding his passion in life--was a frustrating journey that had him, as a student, concerned about his future.

Lee, the Founder’s Week Convocation speaker, said he spent his first two years at Morehouse taking electives because he could not settle on a major. He dreaded the thought of graduation day, knowing that his classmates were already preparing for medical or law school or Wall Street jobs. Although it wasn’t until his junior year that he declared a major, Lee said he was able to eventually find his passion because his parents allowed him to follow his heart.

“Don’t succumb to parental pressure that starts you on a path where you’ll be unhappy down the road,” he warned the men of Morehouse. “You don’t want to be 20 years from now in a job you don’t like. Do what you love—not what’s going to make you money.”

Lee’s words were easily echoed in Reflections of Excellence, where the panelists--the eight Bennie and Candle Award recipients--spoke about being mavericks who are willing to fight for right while turning a passion into one’s life work.

Reflections, the Saturday-morning preamble to the highly anticipated “A Candle in the Dark” Gala, has proven to be the best opportunity to hear the Gala honorees talk about their experiences and the secrets to their success, as well as answer questions from the floor.

Perhaps one of the most poignant questions was from a young man who asked all the honorees: “At the end of the day, when its all done with, what do you want to be remembered for?”

From the distinguished panel of businessmen (James O. Webb ’53, Berry Gordy, Herman J. Russell Sr. and Reginald Davis ’84), physicians (Gerald Truesdale ’71 and Charles J. McDonald) and civil servants (Richard O. Hope ’61 and Charles J. Ogletree), noticeably absent was a mention of wealth or material gain, prominence or the pursuit of titles. Many of the honorees noted that true achievement is measured in how people serve their communities, how they love their spouses and children, and the intangible gifts they leave to the next generation. Though their words were different, the sentiment from each was the same, and could be best summed up with Gordy’s succinct, one-word response: “Relationships.”

In a nod to the previous night’s concert, featuring husband-wife duo Kenny Lattimore and Chanté Moore, it was appropriate that the honorees touched on the importance of building healthy connections with others.

The Founder’s Week Concert offered a little something for everybody as the couple serenaded the crowd with R&B favorites such as “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Is It Still Good to You?” The Valentine’s-week concert drew couples celebrating their love, as evidenced by handholding and a few lingering smooches.

But it was “A Candle in the Dark” Gala, long held as the centerpiece of Founder’s Week, which brought the meaning of fulfilling one’s destiny into perspective. The honorees shared words of wisdom with the 1,500-plus crowd.

For Webb, the award was a testament to the power of a half century-long marriage. He and his wife, Frankie, who died last year, would have celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. They were partners in just about everything, he said. Webb accepted the award in her name.

Hope credited former President Benjamin E. Mays with teaching him valuable lessons. He played in the band that traveled with Mays, and while they were on trips, Mays would “turn around and talk to us about his experiences and his life,” said Hope.

Davis thanked the women in his life: his wife and daughter. “No one achieves anything alone,” he said, “It’s more important to be an exceptional parent than an exceptional executive.” Truesdale thanked his parents, while Ogletree announced where he has set his sights for his next justice projects: “I’m going to take this Candle and use it...With this candle I hope to put some light in the dark places of America, places like Tulsa, Oklahoma.” Ogletree was referring to the Greenwood community, a wealthy black enclave of about 15,000 residents that was destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1921.

It was also a night for introspection. Russell, a self-described “poor kid from Summerhill,” found irony in the fact that he had input into shaping the city where he was raised. His eponymous construction company is responsible for many of the buildings that dot the Atlanta skyline.

The soft-spoken McDonald closed his speech with praise for the College. “I really want to congratulate Morehouse on repopulating the earth with a dying breed: the educated black man.” And Gordy capped the night’s sentiments with a quote that he said has been his verbal signature for a lifetime: “Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle.”

The Rev. Dr. Albert Paul Brinson ’61 closed the commemoration with a sermon during Sunday’s worship service, after which his portrait was unveiled, later to be hung in the Hall of Honor.

“As usual, [Founder’s Week] was among the highlights in the life of the College,” said Brinson. “It helped everyone see the impact that Morehouse has had on the community and the world.

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