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Lifelong civil rights activist visits USF

Students had the opportunity to hear a lecture by community leader turned activist Myrlie Evers-Williams Thursday night at the USF Special Events Center.

Evers-Williams is the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

She came to USF to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts for racial equality during a crucial time in American history.

Throughout this week USF has been celebrating its 16th annual commemoration of King’s birthday. Wednesday night, Movies On The Lawn presented Ghosts of Mississippi, a movie based on the real-life events of Medgar Evers’ murder and his family’s quest for justice.

A single mother after her husband’s murder, Evers-Williams raised her children while attending college. In time, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in sociology. After being a successful businesswoman, Evers-Williams ran for Congress and subsequently became the first full-time chairwoman of the NAACP from 1995-98. In 1999, she published her memoir Watch Me Fly: What I learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I was Meant to Be. The book describes her struggles as a young widow as well as her success as a community leader who has never stopped fighting for racial equality.

Evers-Williams, the soon-to-be-70-year-old activist, came to pay tribute to slain heroes such as King and her late husband. At the same time, she was presented the key to the city of Tampa for her efforts since the Civil Rights movement.

Referring to the King’s holiday, Evers-Williams said, “It should not be a day, a week or a month but a part of our everyday lives.” She told the audience to make sure to embrace King’s dream, make it their own and move forward.

In Evers-Williams’ personal life, her family encouraged her to try to be the best, but only by going as far as society allowed. However, she also shared her fallen husband’s philosophy: “There are no limits, reach for the sun, and always challenge the system all the way.”

To the graduating students, she said their job is not complete once they graduate. Evers-Williams said that today we live in challenging times and “we must help those in our community.”

She talked about her experiences as a young black woman trying to exercise her right to vote.

“We suffered physical and mental abuse when we tried to register,” Evers-Williams said.

To the skeptics who believe one vote doesn’t count, she assured them it does.

“I know this because when I ran for the NAACP chairperson position, I won by one vote,” Evers-Williams said.

Evers-Williams urged those in attendance not only to vote, but to also get involved in their community.

Evers-Williams said she feels fortunate to have lived in the time she has lived. She has seen change by the work and care of those involved in the cause for a better society, one that respects all regardless of race, creed or color.

“Be willing to fight for what you believe in. Be big, bad, bold and thankful,” Evers-Williams said.