Niagara Gazette — Sharaud Moore knows what it’s going to take to see an end to racial inequality in the United States and beyond. He knows the fight is not even close to being complete.
He brought his message to the students and faculty — and anyone else willing to listen — at Niagara University on Monday in the keynote address of the Lewiston campus’s the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. remembrance week. His message was one he meant to drive home early and often.
“We can’t be complacent,” he said before taking the podium. “Equality requires constant maintenance. And these are the people to do it, the high school and university kids.”
Moore isn’t particularly famous, but he is worth a listen. His story is one of triumph though, for a long time, he said, it didn’t appear to be. It’s also a microcosm of how change can sometimes be glacial in pace but monumental in affect, a scaled down representation of the human rights movement.
Approaching 40 years old, Moore tested at a genius level at third grade, growing up in one of the poorest school districts in the country in California. He endured bullying when his mother opted to send him across the city to a more affluent elementary school. Not just from the students, though. He said the staff — teachers and principals alike — made it clear he was unwelcome.
“The only things black on that campus was me and the tires in the parking lot,” he told the crowd of about 125 people Monday. “Even the parking lot was gray. It somehow avoided being black.”
The negative experiences at such an early, formative age dulled his sense of responsibility to himself. He still went to school, but hardly ever applied himself. Eventually he fell in with the wrong crowd and joined a gang. He was even expelled from one of his high schools for bringing a gun to class.
The experience didn’t help him wake up, though. He credits a student teacher named Erin Gruwell at his next school with that. Eventually, this teacher brought a sense of self-respect to his life, pushed him to perform in the classroom like he could on the football field. Years later, his story, combined with those of his classmates, became a 2007 movie produced by MTV Films starring Hilary Swank, called “Freedom Writers.”
Still, Moore continued down a self-destructive path in college before a wake-up call from his mother after losing half his scholarship money put him on the straight and narrow. He drew upon the inspiration from his Freedom Writers teacher and successfully received his teaching degree and returned home with the blessing of his family.
From there, he applied to countless schools in hopes of passing on the gift of knowledge he’d finally come to appreciate. It turned out one of his old high schools, Long Beach Polytechnic High School, and a principal who had, at one time, expelled Moore the student, gave him the opportunity he craved. He’s never left.
To Moore, fighting injustice on a much broader scale is a lot like the struggles he went through personally. He said people have a tendency to not just grow complacent but fail to see something until it’s right under their noses. He compares it to a fire, which usually isn’t the cause of death when it’s burning up an occupied home. Instead, the smoke does the damage before the fire consumes whoever can’t escape the surroundings.
Like a reaction to a wildfire, he said, the reaction to racial inequality – any inequality at all – often fails to make the appropriate impact until it has an effect on people at a personal, intimate level.
“There’s people that would say, ‘That’s 20 miles away, that’s their problem,’” he said. “The thing with a wildfire is it does what it wants to do. People do not realize how close the fire actually is until it’s in the neighborhood. The thing about evil is evil triumphs when good people do nothing. We have as much obligation to work to do good as we have to fight evil.”
Niagara University’s programs focused on remembering the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. continues today with a 2:30 p.m. panel discussions about the civil rights leader’s legacy followed by a 7 p.m. Gospel Fest at the Castellani Art Museum. A showing of the movie “Betty and Coretta,” depicting the lives of the wives of King and Malcolm X, will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, while Friday’s final event of the week is a 1 p.m. showing of the film “Soundtrack for a Revolution.” Full details are available on the university’s website at www.niagara.edu/mlk.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.