A TCU alumnus returned to campus Wednesday as part of the university’s celebration of Constitution Day.
Jeffrey Richard, president and chief executive officer of the Austin Area Urban League, said he geared his speech, “Racism and the Constitution: Then and Now,” toward being a reflection on how far our country has come and how far it may have yet to go.
Richard earned a Bachelor of Science in political science and economics at TCU and a master’s degree in urban economic development from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Richard dedicated the speech to his father, who died 11 days ago. He said his father had grace, ambition and intelligence, but when he was born in 1938 there was no real prospect he could accomplish anything because he was black.
“When I was born, my parents couldn’t vote,” Richard said. “What if the law hadn’t changed?”
Written into the Constitution is the idea that all men are created equal, yet throughout history there are examples of this simple, but profound, idea being disregarded, Richard said.
“We are all captives, prisoners of our own time,” Richard said. “But here’s the great thing: the best thoughts can transcend time.”
Richard said one of the greatest qualities of the Constitution is that it is malleable, and that wiser minds are able to stretch its definitions.
“That’s the beauty of this document,” Richard said. “It is set in time, and it is timeless. It is firmly rooted in cultural tradition, but it is malleable.”
Richard said an example of this is how the definition of the phrase “all men are created equal” has changed. Its original definition meant that all property-owning men are created equal – the current definition means all men and women, property-owning or not, are created equal. This is important because it has become clear there is something universal about the human experience, Richard said.
“There is no black ambition, no white ambition,” Richard said. “There’s just ambition.”
Donald Jackson, director of the Center for Civic Literacy and Herman Brown professor of political science, said the Constitution is fundamental to understanding America’s form of government, and it’s important for students to reflect on it.
“Students need to be aware of the tensions and the strains that are on the Constitution, because the Constitution is meaningful only in the sense that each generation understands and accepts it and insists on its continuation,” Jackson said. “Otherwise, it’s a figment.”
Richard, a former student of Jackson, reiterated the importance of the Constitution, which he said has the ability to buttress the hopes of generations.
“Our Constitution is among the most unique documents in the world,” Richard said. “It captures the aspirations of multiple generations, and it fires aspirations for future generations.”
Brian Banks, a sophomore history major, attended the presentation and said it was very enlightening.
“It was interesting how he [Richard] tied racism to the Constitution but also talked about the election and the government in general,” Banks said. “The background information he provided also helped the audience relate to him.”
Cara Smith, a sophomore political science major, said the most interesting part of the presentation was Richard’s discussion of how America is becoming majority minority, and that minorities once fought to be a part of the general population, but now fight to be the sole minority.
As a recipient of federal funds, TCU is required to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the draft of the Constitution, Jackson said. The university’s celebration of Constitution Day was put together by the Center for Civic Literacy.
In addition to last night’s presentation at the Dee J. Kelly Alumni & Visitor’s Center, the public was invited to symbolically sign the Constitution on the American Bar Association’s Web site. More than 2,200 people added their signatures.