Students at Girard College, a Philadelphia boarding school, got a history lesson from a nationally renowned civil rights activist this week.
Kenneth “Freedom Smitty” Salaam left high school to join civil rights attorney Cecil B. Moore and an activist group called the Young Militants. They picketed for the desegregation of Girard College. The school once only accepted white orphan boys–in accordance with its namesake Stephen Girard’s wishes. “As being one of the people who demonstrated around these walls for seven months and seventeen days, not really knowing if it would happen or not but knowing that it should happen, to now come back forty some years later and to see the fruits of your labor, it’s a tremendous success.”The first male students of color were enrolled at Girard in 1968. Now it’s co-ed and around 90% of the population are minorities.Salaam tied his personal stories to Girard’s Core Values: respect, responsibility, integrity, self-discipline and compassion. “When I was a teenager and saw the people were being denied the right to vote because of the color of their skin, I felt that I had a responsibility to change that law. All of you, each one of you have a responsibility to take this Girard educational experience and fashion yourself into a dynamic person whose good deeds will benefit others way after you leave this Earth.”16 year-old Bamidele Idowu was impressed by Salaam’s work because he doesn’t think he would have had the guts to do the same thing.”Every time someone says that they worked with Martin Luther King it’s kind of interesting to hear that because we know him as this iconic figure,” Idowu said. “I look up to those guys.”
Salaam spoke to nearly 500 students at the school, which offers all students full scholarships.