“Leadership and Legacy” on the Hilltop

 Sterling K. Brown and Dr. Clarence B. Jones in Conversation

The Silk Speaker Series has been housed at USF since 2017. From left to right, Jonathan D. Greenberg, Stephanie Sears, Sterling K. Brown, and Dr. Clarence B. Jones. Photo by Samantha Avila Griffin / SF Foghorn.

Nearly 1,000 students, faculty, alumni and community members poured into the War Memorial Gym on Tuesday, Feb. 6, to listen to the Silk Speaker Series conversation between Sterling K. Brown and Dr. Clarence B. Jones. 

Brown, 47, is best known for his role as Randall Pearson in “This Is Us.” He was recently nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the new film,“American Fiction.” 

Brown shared the stage with Dr. Clarence B. Jones. Jones, 93, co-founded USF’s Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice with Jonathan D. Greenberg in 2019. Jones worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as his speechwriter and legal counsel, and is credited with writing the introductory paragraphs to King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The talk was sponsored by the Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice and the Silk Speaker Series. It was titled “Leadership and Legacy,” and moderated by Associate Dean Stephanie Sears.

“I am so honored and absolutely excited to moderate this conversation this evening,” said Sears. “Dr. Jones and Sterling are two men who span different generations, different fields of professional life, yet who have common experiences and some really interesting synchronicities that bring them together.”

Brooke Schneider, a junior English major, said, “Both of the speakers had such a beautiful and deep connection to music and the performing arts…[it] helped their fight for justice in different ways.”

Jones attended a summer program at Juilliard, and Brown attended Stanford, studying acting, and New York University’s Tisch’s School of the Arts.

Brown said that legacy was central to his fight for justice. “I think I’m keenly aware with everything that I do that I walk upon the shoulders of giants,” he said to the crowd. “I think with each step I take, it’s with the knowledge, the humility, of knowing I could not be here if it wasn’t for you,” Brown said in reference to Jones. 

“You’re talking about Paul Robeson, and Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin, and Sidney Poitier, and Harry Belafonte, etcetera. I could not be here if these individuals had not forged the path for it to be easier for me. I have a responsibility to make it a little bit easier for anybody that comes after me.”

Aniya Williams, a sophomore media studies major, said she enjoyed “[seeing] how Dr. Clarence came to be and his motivations behind his activism, and also knowing that he inspires Sterling K. Brown, who is of an entirely different generation.”

Williams was one of approximately 20 students who attended a small, pre-event Q&A session at Lone Mountain’s Studio Theater with Brown and Rev. Dr. Ronné Wingate Sims. 

Sims is an ordained Baptist minister and member of the University Ministry staff. She moderated the Q&A session with Brown, focusing on what it’s like to be a Black man working in the entertainment industry. After their discussion, students asked Brown questions. 

“[Brown] coming to sit with me and my friends, who are also of a different generation, shows how we have to have this callback to past generations and take in what they say,” Williams said.

Chase Darden (left) told Sterling K. Brown (right), “my dad said [you’re] the next Denzel Washington.” Photo by Samantha Avila Griffin / SF Foghorn.

Foghorn Sports Editor Chase Darden was particularly keen to meet Brown at this event, being that. Brown’s first-Emmy win in 2016 was for playing the editor’s father, Christopher Darden, in “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”

“It was funny because when I told him who I was, he looked at me as if he saw a ghost,” Chase Darden said. 

During the central talk, the two men spoke about their experiences with education. Jones said, “As a result of the education I got from those Irish Catholic nuns, ages 6 to 14, I am, have been, committed to the pursuit of excellence… the pursuit of knowledge.”

Brown spoke to his own experience in university. “It gave me confidence, in terms of what I wanted to do. I knew I had talent… I wanted to have a set of skills I could take from role to role.”

In the talk, Jones reflected on his friendships with Jewish students while attending Columbia University, their relationship strengthened by discrimination both of their communities faced. While sharing anecdotes about the discrimination both groups endured, Jones repeatedly used a slur historically used against Jewish people. 

In the following days, a commercial starring Jones aired during the Super Bowl by the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism. According to CBS News, the 30-second ad cost approximately $7 million dollars.

The Foghorn requested a comment, about the phrase and advertisement, from Jonathan D. Greenberg, co-founder of the Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice. Greenberg acknowledged the request but did not reply in time for print. Should the Foghorn receive a comment, you will find an updated version of this article on our website. 

Jones’ last piece of advice for students was to “read, read, read, read, read.” This stuck out to sophomore sociology major Mecedes Lindsay. “I think [picking] up physical media is a lost art… I’m excited to hear what stories and interactions [Jones] had with some of the people I look up to.” 

Board of Trustees member Adam Swig told the Foghorn that the Silk Series “is an opportunity to hear from some of the greatest voices out there. Dr. Jones is an American treasure. He’s living history. He is the record of truth, and we all need to listen to the truth-speakers.”

Performing Arts and Social Justice students were given priority to reserve tickets for the pre-event Q&A conversation with Rev. Dr. Ronné Wingate Sims (left) and Sterling K. Brown (right). Photo by Samantha Avila Griffin / SF Foghorn.

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, News Editor: Niki Sedaghat

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