A legendary professor and activist was recently honored with Kentucky State University’s first Atwood Institute for Race, Education, and the Democratic Ideal Master Teacher award as part of the inaugural event in the Institute’s Master Teacher Lecture Series. 

Dr. Jayme Coleman Williams, 99, is a former professor at Edward Waters College, Shorter College, Morris Brown College, Wilberforce University and Tennessee State University. Her former students include Oprah, opera singer Leontyne Price and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph. She was raised in Kentucky and is a trailblazer in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Together with her husband, Dr. McDonald Williams, she served tirelessly on the executive committee of the local NAACP for four decades.

“The names Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall are icons to you, but for Dr. Coleman Williams they were co-workers of sorts, in the black freedom struggle for justice and equality,” Atwood Institute Director Dr. Crystal A. deGregory said. “The names John Lewis and Diane Nash are those of students she shuttled back-and-forth from non-violent protests in her car.”

Coleman Williams said young people can truly make a difference in the world if they accept three challenges: preparation, commitment and involvement.

“As African-Americans, we have to be better than average,” Coleman Williams said. “Statistics confirm we lag behind because we are still confronted with prejudice. I urge you to be determined and excellent in the face of discrimination.”

The professor added that the problems of yesterday have not been resolved and that divisions in the country highlight the need for millennials to be part of the solution.

“Where there is inequality, stand up for equality,” Coleman Williams said. “Where seeds of hate are planted, grow seeds of hope. Where there is injustice, proclaim a message of justice. Where there is gender inequality, proclaim the equality of all God’s creation.”

Coleman Williams urged students to use their voices.

“Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that we will have to repent in this generation not so much for the atrocious acts of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Do not be silent.”