Comedian and activist Dick Gregory delivered a message to a meeting of black educators yesterday in Towson that was at times funny, at times angry, and always demanding.
And none of it was lost on the Rev. Nathaniel B. Thomas, head residence counselor at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
"The message you brought touched my heart," Mr. Thomas told Mr. Gregory, one of the keynote speakers at the annual conference of the National Association of Personnel Workers of historically black colleges and universities.
"If we can help somebody -- and we have a lot of somebodies -- our message will not be in vain. We appreciate the challenge you have brought us."
Mr. Gregory's challenge to the audience of about 100 deans, counselors and financial aid officers gathered at the Sheraton Towson was simple: Question. Question everything.
"You got to question things," he said. "We got to ask questions."
During his one-hour speech, Mr. Gregory questioned -- in sometimes amusing and other times angry manners -- the stories behind the headlines.
He urged the audience to reach out to the black community by teaching the young to read and write and by reading the Bible to the elderly.
Despite racism and other obstacles, black colleges, he said, have made a difference for black Americans. Mr. Gregory said nine of his 10 children have attended black colleges.
"You have made a difference, you got to know that," he said.
He also urged his listeners to assume a leadership role, to encourage blacks to become entrepreneurs to provide jobs for other blacks.
"That's what will turn you around," he said.
During the four-day conference, the association members are to address issues confronting black students. The conference's theme is "Commitment to Black Education; Student Affairs Making a Difference."
Raymond A. Downs, chair of the conference and vice president of student affairs at Morgan State University, said the issues include substance abuse, retention in college, safety and security on campus and academic and support services.
"Some say there is no longer a need or reliance on black colleges," said Mr. Thomas, the association's president.
"But they still provide a vital role in getting students past post-secondary school. We still have a major part to play even though we're still considered the underdog."