Sewell gave an inspirational and motivational message, detailing both her personal journey and the benefits African-Americans have received thanks to the work of King and others who have paved the way for future generations.
Sewell called education “the great equalizer,” and recounted her personal life journey. The daughter of a high school basketball coach and librarian, she grew up in Selma where she was the first black valedictorian at Selma High School. She went on to study at Princeton, Oxford and Harvard Law School.
At Princeton, her mentor in a special program for minority students, was Michelle Robinson, who would go on to marry Barack Obama. At Harvard, she said she was a classmate of Obama’s.
“I knew them both before they knew each other,” she said.
Sewell said she practiced corporate law for two years in England and eight years in New York before returning to Alabama to be closer to her parents. She is currently serving her second term in Congress.
Sewell said that as the only Democrat in her state’s Congressional delegation, and a Democrat in a House with a Republican majority, she has learned the importance of collaboration.
Sewell encouraged the students to set goals and decide what they want to do in their lives. Whatever they want to be, “See yourself and carry yourself in that way. You can become that. If you can believe it, you can achieve it.”
She also encouraged them to learn history.
“Jesse Jackson said if you don’t know your history, you’re living in a vacuum,” she said. “We have inherited a great legacy imbued by the great talent of our forbearers.”
She encouraged students to close the gap “between what you are and what you can be.”
She encouraged those in the audience to stay engaged politically to make their views known to office-holders so that they would not only be hearing from special interests and those who “pay to play.”
For the most part, Sewell stayed away from political issues in her remarks. But she did say that she believed health care should be a right. She also said she did not believe the civil rights struggle is over.
“Dr. King’s dream is still not fully realized,” she said. “But we are beneficiaries. I’m part of the Joshua generation. I drink from deep wells I did not dig.”
Presentations were made to Sewell by Dr. Hawkins, representatives of the AKA sorority and Talladega Mayor Larry Barton.
Contact Jim Smothers at firstname.lastname@example.org