Actor Danny Glover and two other recipients of this year's Freedom Awards spoke Thursday about the importance of education and the role young people played in the civil rights movement.
Glover, Chicago educator Marva Collins and Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Office of Civil Rights Russlyn H. Ali attended a public forum ahead of a Saturday ceremony honoring the winners of the National Civil Rights Museum's Freedom Awards in Memphis.
The awards honor supporters of civil rights who have a strong influence on their communities. Others being honored this year include former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, NBA basketball Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, hip-hop performer Usher and actress Cicely Tyson.
All three participants took questions from Memphis-area students at the Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ. They spoke about the importance of giving young people guidance and improving the nation's educational system. Glover talked about his experience with the civil rights movement and how young people were central to its success.
"They challenged authority, they challenged power," he said. "There is a lesson to be learned from that."
Collins is known for taking $5,000 from her pension and starting her own school, Westside Preparatory School in Chicago, because she was not satisfied with the education her two youngest children received in private schools. She taught the learning disabled and students labeled as problem children.
Collins said teachers are the most important link between life as a child and the reality of being an adult.
"Our children can achieve if they have the right leader leading them," she said.
Ali was appointed by President Barack Obama as the primary adviser on civil rights in America's schools. Ali has worked as a teacher, lawyer and children's activist for the Children's Defense Fund.
She said fixing the nation's schools should be a priority.
"We have to compete if our country is going to survive," Ali said.
In addition to the guest panel, six public school students received Keeper of the Dream Awards. The award is given to students who display exceptional qualities in academics and civil rights.
The National Civil Rights Museum is located at the site of the former Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The museum is seeking public donations to raise $40 million for renovations of the 86-year-old building.
Glover said there is a critical question that people should ask themselves when they think of civil rights.
"What does it mean to be a human being?" he said. "Dr. King asked himself this."