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Walters Honored, Lionized at Conference

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/16/2013, 3 p.m.
During the first Ronald W. Walters Legacy Conference at Howard University's Blackburn Center in Northwest on Oct. 10, Dr. Leonard Jeffries presented a poster that he titled “Scholar Warriors.” Photo by Roy Lewis

Dr. Ron Walters would have been right at home at a two-day conference marking the official launch of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center at Howard University.

Throughout the days and well into the nights of Oct. 9-11, scholars, friends, former students, mentees and admirers of Walters sat in on panel discussions, listened to and participated in scholarly debates, and frank exchanges about issues of concern and importance to African Americans, Africans and others in the black Diaspora. Conferees from around the country delved into public policy issues, politics, race, criminal justice, law, leadership and current events.

Everywhere people gathered, Walters' spirit of inquiry, curiosity and intellectual vigor was evident at the Ronald W. Walters Legacy Conference. And common refrains that suffused the panel discussions, lectures, and presentations were "What would Dr. Walters say?" "What would Dr. Walters do?" and "What would Dr. Walters think?"

The Legacy Conference took place against the backdrop of a partial government shutdown by conservative and Tea Party members of the House Republican Caucus; sustained verbal and personal attacks by conservatives and critics of President Barack Obama; voter suppression; an activist Supreme Court which invalidated a key section of the historic Voting Rights Act; and actions by the conservative wing of the GOP which a number of panelists said was an effort to turn back the clock.

All of these issues, conferees said, were part and parcel of what Walters tackled head-on, advocated and worked against, explained and taught about.

Walters distinguished himself as an internationally recognized political scientist and activist who left behind a stellar legacy as a scholar, teacher, writer, political activist and researcher when he died in September 2010. Sought after by a wide array of politicians, candidates and organizations, Walters is revered by colleagues, admirers and students as a potent, powerful and persuasive intellectual who never lost the common touch.

Dr. Elsie L. Scott said Walters deserves every accolade, honor and recognition because of how he carried himself and for the life he lived.

"He was a modest man. When you'd see him, you wouldn't know he was a giant of a man," said Scott, founding director of the Leadership & Public Policy Center. "Newer leaders want to wave their flag to let [people] know they're there, but he would come into a room and sit to the side. He was honest and principled, and never strayed from his basic beliefs. He didn't try to get on talk shows. He was always looking for outlets for his work."

Scott, former president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said Walters was always very supportive of the black community.

"The guiding principle of his life was to liberate," she said.

The Ronald W. Walters Leadership & Public Policy Center was established by Howard University a year ago to serve as an interdisciplinary entity that will preserve Walters' legacy. It will also serve as a focal point for research, policy discussions, publications, leadership development activities and service at the nexus of African-American engagement in the U.S. political process and American and foreign policy.