PGCC Hosts Intergenerational Leaders Discussion

Gale Horton Gay | 3/13/2013, 9:04 a.m.

Before a packed house at Prince George's Community College (PGCC), luminaries in politics, medicine, the civil rights movement, sports and entertainment discussed their struggles and motivations in achieving success.

Moderated by Camille O. Cosby, Ed.D, Broadway play and television film producer and co-founder of the National Visionary Leadership Project, the event on March 7 brought together David Dinkins, the first African-American mayor of New York City; M. Joycelyn Elders, a pediatrician and former U.S. Surgeon General; Robert P. Moses, former field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and an educator, all touted as "visionaries." Also part of the dialogue were the "contemporaries" actor, director, producer Malcolm Jamal Warner; 1984 Paralympic skier Bonnie St. John and PGCC students Joy Applewhite and Philippa Palmer.

Charlene M. Dukes, president of PGCC, said the panelists are "like our students they all started with a dream."

The "Legacy of Change: Excellence Unleashed" was called an "intergenerational conversation" with Cosby asking questions of the panelists during the first part of the program and soliciting questions from the audience during the remainder of the evening.

When asked about her upbringing and her efforts to advocate for children throughout her career, Elders explained that she was the oldest of eight children and served in a motherhood role "all my life." She described growing up poor and living with her family in a three-room shack. She didn't dream of becoming a doctor when she was young and never saw a physician until she attended college.

"You can't be what you can't see," said Elders.

However, when one of her brothers almost died after being treated for an appendectomy, Elders realized she "wanted something better for black children."

During her career heading Arkansas' Health Department and as Surgeon General, she pushed for early childhood education and school-based health clinics and became an outspoken advocate on issues of teen pregnancy, tobacco use, national health care and legalization of marijuana. However her views were considered controversial by some and in 1995 - 15 months after being appointed by President Bill Clinton - she was forced to resign.

Dinkins recalled how civil rights activist and lawyer Percy Sutton's 1977 unsuccessful run for mayor of New York paved the way for him.

"Everybody stands on somebody's shoulders," said Dinkins. "I have no illusions [about] how smart I am, how good I am. I am the beneficiary of a whole lot of work and people who came before me."

Warner, who played Theo Huxtable in the long-running television program " The Cosby Show," recalled auditioning for the role and acting like the young characters he saw on TV, precocious and wise cracking. Bill Cosby asked Warner, who was about 13 at the time, if he would talk to his father that way. Warner replied "No" and Bill Cosby told him he didn't want to see that kind of character on his show. Warner re-auditioned 45 minutes later with something "360-degrees different" and nailed the role. He said the lesson was simply, "Be who you are."