In yesterday’s MLK Symposium’s keynote address, Academy Award-winning actor and social justice activist Louis Gossett, Jr. told a packed crowd in Hill Auditorium that the nation’s race relations have greatly improved over his lifetime.

Gossett, best known for his roles in the Broadway show “A Raisin in the Sun” and the 1982 film “An Officer and a Gentleman,” said he’d just returned from South Carolina, where he was campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The current presidential campaign, he said, shows a shift toward open-mindedness – something Gossett said is an important step in eliminating the divisions present in society.

Gossett cited the fact that Obama, a black man, and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, a woman, are leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination as a sign that American society has overcome some of its prejudices.

“It’s not about politics anymore,” he said. “Something seems to be happening larger than that.”

Despite the progress, Gossett said America is still far from a just society. He also said every person’s goal should be to ensure that the next generation is better off than his or her own.

“You are told that the number one commodity on this planet is gold, oil or money,” Gossett said. “The single most important commodity on this planet is you children.”

Gossett said he didn’t deliver a prepared speech because he wanted his emotions and words to come through naturally. He said it’s important to remember Dr. King’s efforts more than just a single day a year.

“Martin Luther King’s legacy is more than just a day or the month,” said Gossett. “It needs to be practiced every day, 365 days a year.”

Along with University students, high school students from Detroit, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti attended the lecture. Business School junior Gabrielle Sims said the Black Volunteer Network invited high schoolers to campus this weekend to participate in MLK Symposium events.

LSA junior Rachel Moore, a member of the Black Volunteer Network, said she liked how Gossett tailored his message to students in the audience.

“He was speaking to us, not at us,” she said.

– Jalynn Lassic contributed to this report.

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