Gantt Encourages Youth to Continue the Work of Freedom Fighters During Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast

Harvey Gantt speaks during 2024 MLK Breakfast

CHARLOTTE, N.C./JAN. 19, 2024 – Many Golden Bulls started their Thursday morning with soulful songs, a warm plate of food and wise words from Civil Rights icon, Harvey Gantt, during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.

The event was moderated by Dr. Jordan Brooks, associate vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and Title IX Coordinator. The event kicked off with greetings from Dr. Valerie Kinloch ’96, president of JCSU.

Kinloch Speaks at MLK Breakfast 2024
Dr. Kinloch offers greetings and a short message during MLK Breakfast (Photo by Gabrielle Isaac Allison)

Dr. Kinloch discussed the connections between Dr. King and poet Langston Hughes, detailing that the two were both incredibly inspired by one another’s work. She specifically referenced the poem “I, Too,” which concludes with “I, too, am America.”

“When I think of that poem, I realize that Martin Luther King Jr. told the world, ‘I, Too, am America’ through his work,” she said. “As your president, I stand in the legacy of Dr. King with the goal to lead with love and compassion, reignite passion and forge a future of Black excellence.”

After words of welcome from SGA President Sydlie Fleurimond and Justin Jackson, a member of the Alpha Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha (Dr. King’s fraternity), a discussion with Gantt moderated by Dr. Jasmin Corbett, assistant professor of Communication and Legal Studies, began by discussing Gantt’s connections to MLK and social activism. 

“Dr. King understood the long-term effects of slavery and segregation,” Gantt said. “They did serious damage to people of color, and that made it so we weren’t starting off with the same opportunities as others.”

Gantt is no stranger to challenging systems. His activism started when he was in high school. 

“I was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or the NAACP Youth Council,” he remembered fondly. 

The group participated in a number of activism activities, including following in the footsteps of four A&T freshman students who sat-in at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro. The group participated in similar lunch counter sit-ins in Charleston.

“One day, we gathered around a small TV screen and we saw this young man speaking,” he said. “His words were captivating.”
Gantt and his friends were listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Civil Rights icon whom Gantt would later hear speak in person on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University on Sept. 21, 1966. That was a turning point moment for Gantt.  

Prior to that moment, while in high school, Gantt had applied to a number of HBCUs with the hopes of one day becoming an architect. At the time, Black architects made up a fraction of 1% of the profession.  While the profession is gaining some popularity in communities of color, a 2022 study from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards revealed that just 7 percent of architects were Black or African-American. Harvey Gantt became an architect in the 1960s, breaking barriers and changing the trajectory for others.

The interest in architecture began in Gantt’s youth.  A high school counselor challenged him to apply to a predominantly white institution, and Gantt chose one close to home – Clemson University in South Carolina.

After filling out five applications and having each one denied, Gantt and his family filed a lawsuit, which he later won.

“It was difficult, but I was doing it for myself and on behalf of all the Black students who would follow me,” he said. 

Dr. Jasmine Corbet Moderates MLK Breakfast Discussion with Harvey Gantt
Dr. Jasmine Corbet Moderates MLK Breakfast Discussion with Harvey Gantt

After becoming the first Black student at Clemson, Harvey Gantt went on to become the first Black mayor of the City of Charlotte.

He discussed his role and the importance of students, both at Johnson C. Smith University and around the country, performing their civic duty and doing what they can to move the community forward.

“It is important that the youth of today understand how much of a role they can play in moving us forward,” he said. “I can’t believe that where one political party wants to take the country is the antithesis of what we’ve fought for. I want young people today to know that they don’t want to live in a society that tries to divide us.”

Gantt said that voting is important and that students shouldn’t let fear paralyze them into inaction.

“We are in an age where the ability to discern has never been so important,” he said. “We’ve got to remember where we came from as a people so we can chart our course to where we want to go.”

Gantt ended the discussion with a message about Johnson C. Smith University.

“This University is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “Our people can’t afford not to have a growing, thriving HBCU like this in a city like Charlotte. The community needs to see the product coming from JCSU and know that hiring a JCSU graduate will move our community forward.”

The morning, which also included rousing musical selections by student leader Ashton Williams and Residence Hall Coordinator Owen Forbes, ended with the presentation of a certificate of appreciation and a group singing of “We Shall Overcome.”

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