The Rev. Dr. Michael Dyson Visits Campus in Honor of Black History Month
On Monday, Feb. 27, in celebration of Black History Month, The Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, an American academic, author, radio host, and a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, visited campus to address the community at the invitation of Jordan Rose ’13.
February 29, 2012
Dyson was accompanied by close friend and Washington D.C.’s NBC4 News Anchor Jim Vance, Alix DeJean ’00, and members of the Rose family. For the last two years, Rose has invited influential speakers to campus to celebrate Black History Month. Last year, she invited Congressman John Lewis to speak to the community.
Rose introduced Dr. Dyson to the community. “I am honored to present to you a man who has managed to rise from welfare to earn a Ph.D at Princeton University,” she said. “From his professional beginnings as a factory worker in Detroit, he has become what Naomi Wolf, a renowned author, terms ‘the ideal public intellectual of our time.’"
Dr. Dyson addressed the community with familiarity, passion, and intensity, asking his audience to challenge their preconceptions about race, history, and stereotypes. In one breath, he managed to touch on the great and monumental moments of African American history in the United States, while also highlighting the unjust actions of those in today’s pop culture who feed negativity and insincerity into society’s way of thinking. He asked the community to consider what is known about American history and then reflect on the fact that African Americans were and are an integral part of this country’s story, and that they played an invaluable part in the development of the nation.
Dyson quoted rap lyrics like poetry, slowly and methodically so the audience could, for possibly the first time, hear the meaning and the depth of the artist’s words. He lamented about the irresponsible actions and choices of those who speak publicly and irresponsibly against a race, citing decades of tension and unrest that are creating these seemingly insurmountable chasms among communities.
In conclusion, Dyson charged the students with learning more, becoming more involved, and understanding all the parts of history, so that they could, as they go out into the world, work to make a knowledgeable and meaningful difference in their community.
The following is an excerpt of Rose introductory remarks:
“Dr. Dyson was born in Detroit, Michigan to a middle class family, but in high school he was challenged by circumstances that would have broken some of the strongest individuals. While a senior in high school, Dyson faced the dual challenge of fatherhood and living on welfare. Accepting menial jobs as a way of supporting his expected son, the future wasn’t looking bright. Despite all of these obstacles, Dyson kept his faith, regularly attending his Baptist church, where he began to rediscover his passion for speaking he learned at an earlier age in church. It was his passion for the Lord and public speaking that led him to study theology. At the age of 21, he became an ordained Baptist minister. This began his relentless quest to continue his education at all levels, not only with the motivation of educating himself, but also to provide a better life for his son and others. Dyson went on to earn a bachelor’s degree with high honors from Carson-Newman College in 1982, after which he began a career as a freelance journalist to improve his writing skills and to provide for his younger brother who was incarcerated in the early 1980’s. From this point on Dyson was unstoppable. He accepted a graduate fellowship from Princeton University where he worked on both his master’s and doctoral degrees. Dyson was no ordinary student, in addition to his doctoral work Dyson also taught at Princeton University, Hartford Seminary, and Chicago Theological Seminary. Dyson was awarded his Ph.D from Princeton in 1993. Once most academics reach such status they choose to refrain from weighing in on topics having to do with popular culture, but this was in fact Dyson’s passion.
He has taught at some of the most prestigious universities in the nation, including Brown, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania. His remarkable influence has not been confined to the students whom he has taught, as he regularly appears on nationally syndicated television shows such as “The Today Show,” “Nightline,” “The O’Reilly Factor,” “The Colbert Report,” “Real Time with Bill Maher” and is a regular contributor on MSNBC. He is also host of the nationally syndicated public radio program “The Michael Eric Dyson Show.”
Hailed by Ebony Magazine as one of the 150 most powerful African Americans, Dyson is a two-time NAACP Image Award winner as well as a recipient of the American Book Award. His book “Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X” was named a Notable Book of the year by “The New York Times” while another one of his books, “Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?” was a New York Times bestseller. Dyson has authored over 10 books to date and shows no signs of slowing down.
Despite all of these honors and accalades, Dyson has not forgotten where he came from. He serves on the board of directors of the Common Ground Foundation, an organization dedicated to empowering urban youth in the United States. He is also a professor of sociology at Georgetown University where he has caused quite a stir over his class titled, “The Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay Z” which “The Washington Post” said ‘might be the only Georgetown course ever discussed on MTV.’
An important part of education is learning to understand those whose lives are most different from us and yet seeing in them our common struggles. Dr. Dyson is uniquely suited to help all learn something new about the world and the cultures in which we live. And, we are honored to welcome him as we mark Black History Month at EHS.”