In Remembrance of Lynn Walker Huntley (1946-2015)

The Southern Education Foundation would like to take this Women's History Month to honor the work and legacy of President Emerita, Lynn Walker Huntley, who sadly passed away on August 30th, 2015. Lynn’s impact on the Foundation was tremendous.  She came to SEF in 1995 from the Ford Foundation and directed the Comparative Human Relations Initiative, which examined strategies for improving race relations in Brazil, South Africa and the United States.  She would later become SEF’s first female president, and build out a number of important initiatives that included: No Time to Lose, Still Striving, Miles to Go, New Majority, and the Southern Education Leadership Initiative.  Her powerful voice and thinking were present in the numerous publications, videos and convening efforts developed during her 15 year tenure, all aimed at ensuring poor students and students of color had equitable opportunities to learn and contribute to the common good.  

As her former colleagues and friends have shared from the Ford Foundation, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and in the press, among many others, her career accomplishments as a civil rights attorney, advocate, researcher and philanthropist were truly incredible and inspired so many that came after her.  She was first to lead the charge on critical issues here in the American South, in the US, and abroad related to human rights, racism, and equity.  And through all this she was most notably humble.  Lynn’s SEF colleagues remember her dedication to helping those most in need, her mentorship, and her fearlessness to tell it like it is.  She did all this important and daunting work somehow with a smile, and often a chuckle, that was infectious to everyone around her.  She will be missed dearly and our hearts go out to her family and friends.

In closing, we think it is only appropriate, that we let Lynn have the last word because frankly, no one could ever say it better than her.  The following is a short essay she wrote for young people attending the World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia that was held in Durban, South Africa in August, 2001.  In this essay, she speaks to the next generation on why the struggle for ending racism and injustice in the world must go on.

A Message to the Next Generation:
 

You Are Never Too Young

--- Lynn Huntley

An individual has not started living until he [or she] can rise above the narrow confines of …individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity…. Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find but something we must create.  — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands:  we have no right to assume otherwise.  If we …do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and . . . change the history of the world. — James Baldwin

Young people have always been leaders of social change.  Maybe it is because they are able to see not just what is—but to imagine what can be.   

This is an invitation to young people to imagine a world beyond racism, where respect for human rights is a reality and where unity and fairness rule.  More than that, it is a challenge to young people to help take the world beyond racism. 

You may not have created the problem of racism. You may think it is not your problem. But if you don’t believe in racism and don’t want it to continue, you have an obligation to combat it. Racism hurts everyone. If you are not part of the solution, you really will be part of the problem.

Can you imagine a world beyond racism?  Will you work to make it so? You are never too young to do what is right or to care.

Racism and its frequent companions, poverty and inequality, has devastating effects, not just on adults, but especially on children and young people.  Consider this:

The world’s population tripled during the 20th century.  Today, the young are the largest group of people on earth.  Unfortunately, many young people, especially children of African descent or appearance in Brazil, South Africa and the United States, are exploited.  There is a growing trade in children as laborers.  Others are being abused sexually.  In many countries, child prostitution is a significant industry.  More than 2 million children have died and 6 million were seriously injured in the world’s armed conflicts during the last decade.  Over half of the millions of people affected by AIDS are under the age of 25.  Domestic abuse, police violence, suicide, drugs, AIDS—the litany of problems to be overcome is long.  Those who are the most vulnerable and need help the most are victims of poverty, racism and inequality.

It may seem that such problems are so overwhelming, that no one person or no group of dedicated people can have an impact.  But that is defeatist thinking and wrong.  All of us have ways—large and small—to help combat racism at home or abroad.  We may not be able to solve the big systemic problems of the world through individual action, but we can make a difference where we are.  And, if we each do our part, over time, together, we can make an enormous contribution to making the world a better place.

Your contribution may involve making friends with someone who looks different from how you see yourself due to color or race.  It may involve telling your classmates who make negative remarks about someone’s color, race or other superficial characteristics that they are doing something wrong, harmful and offensive.  It may involve participating in efforts to raise monies for worthy causes or volunteering time to help people less fortunate than yourself.  It may involve supporting and voting for candidates who are concerned about racism or getting involved in antipoverty and antidiscrimination programs.  It may mean participating in demonstrations, lobbying for public policies, asking questions, or writing articles. 

There are thousands of ways in which you can become involved in the global struggle against racism.  The only unacceptable action is to withdraw and do nothing.  Martin Luther King, Jr., the great African American civil rights leader, framed the challenge this way:

Everybody can be great.  Because anybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.  You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.  You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.  You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.

Now is the time for your involvement – for a new wave of youth activism and leadership!

We ask that you think hard and long about what you understand about race and racism.  Even more important, we ask you to decide what you can and will do --now and in the future -- to make a better world.  We think that it is time to put the antiquated ideas sustaining racism on the scrap heap of history and move on!  Don’t you?

Along with others across the world, you can become among the “handful” James Baldwin beckoned —the handful that can change the history of the world. 

IMAGINE, IMAGINE, IMAGINE … WHAT YOU CAN DO!

 

-- World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia, Durban, South Africa, August 2001.

 


View a short video where Lynn speaks about the importance of passing the torch to the next generation.

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