Critically acclaimed actor, director and humanitarian Forest Whitaker spoke about the importance of living in the moment and changing one’s realities at the inaugural Delivering Democracy Lecture on Tuesday night.
The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosted the lecture, which took place at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, and had an audience of about 2,200 people who came to listen to Whitaker’s speech.
Dr. Matthew Whitaker, founding director for the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, invited Forest Whitaker to speak at the event. Aside from his career in the film industry, Whitaker is also known for being a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and an advocate for those affected by the civil war in Uganda.
During the lecture, Whitaker talked about President Barack Obama’s campaigns and his election as the first black president. Whitaker emphasized Obama’s grassroots efforts during his campaigns, and particularly how he reached out for support from regular citizens.
“The engine of the campaign wasn’t a handful of billionaires… It was ordinary people giving what they could, a few dollars at a time,” Whitaker said. “It got us to realize that we have the potential; we have the ability to change our realities. In many ways, this is one of the most important things that came out of an election.”
Whitaker also talked about the importance of today’s youth and the future leaders of the world, encouraging them to make not only their communities a better place, but also the world.
In terms of people’s careers, Whitaker raised the issue of job descriptions and how they don’t include basic qualities desired in a good human being. He gave an example of an accountant who might be foreclosing on someone’s house and mentioned that there should be an element of empathy in people’s jobs.
“Nowhere does it say that the accountant will show compassion for the person whose house she’s foreclosing on,” Whitaker said. “There’s nothing wrong with letting your work play such a part in our lives, but we have to never allow our job descriptions to define the manner in which we do our jobs,” he said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who attended the event, said while he was initially skeptical about actually bringing Whitaker to Phoenix, he took the event seriously and was impressed by its turnout.
“He was very inspirational with his message of ‘Each of us can be the light…’ He’s got a future in the preacher business if he ever gives up acting,” Stanton said. “It’s a fun event, it’s a learning event, and it’s an inspirational event, and so I’m confident that Dr. Matthew Whitaker will be able to turn a lot of the energy we saw tonight into action, and that’s exactly what the center is all about.”
Audrey Davenport, volunteer coordinator for the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, said the center plays a role in taking a handle on the education system and bringing in the public. Davenport mentioned the relevance of living in Arizona and its own shortcomings in terms of racism and inequality.
“By being in Arizona and being a state university, I think that they are probably in a key position to do the most for this state in terms of its racism,” Davenport said. “Because you have some young minds and some brilliant minds. … I think that gives the students a real chance to do some real work on some real issues that are plaguing this country.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seanlogan