Actor and author Hill Harper spoke in the Student Union Ballroom Wednesday night as MTSU’s Black History Month keynote speaker.
Harper, who starred in CBS’s CSI: NY and USA Network’s Covert Affairs, came off as charismatic, smart, funny and extremely wise. His message was potent and deep, yet light with some well-timed humor and crowd involvement.
Harper’s speech was predicated off the quote: “The future does not belong to those who are fearful of bold projects or new ideas, but rather the future belongs to those who can blend passion, reason and courage into a personal commitment to great ideas and enterprises of American society,” focusing on three words: passion, reason and courage.
Passion, according to Harper, is “energy.”
“To change the composition of something, energy is required to change it,” he said. “To create change and have impact, energy is required.”
Harper said we have two energy sources: kinetic energy from working towards change and radiant energy from shining “light” on problems in your life.
“Light shines and exposes problems,” Harper said. “We need to shine the light on all of the issues. When you have radiant energy, it radiates off of you and affects others.”
Harper then began talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how he used his “kinetic energy” to create change.
“He would’ve made everybody in here uncomfortable,” he said. “Dr. King was an agitator; Dr. King was aggressive. More people in this country disliked Dr. King than liked him. Dr. King attempted to create change. The only way to create change is with kinetic energy.”
“(Having) reason is to be a critical thinker and being able to plan,” Harper said.
He used the example of President Barack Obama, whom he met while attending Harvard University, which began with a lighthearted anecdote of their first conversation in Harvard’s gymnasium.
“In walks this tall skinny guy, socks were up a little too high, shorts were a little small. He looked a little odd to me…I ran up to him and said ‘Hey man you want to play basketball?’ he looks down at me and says ‘Well why else would I be in the gym?’ I said ‘Dude, don’t get smart with me; I’ll cut you.”
After this brief confrontation, the two became friends and Harper learned that Obama had taken a seven-year break from school after graduating from Columbia University. Obama realized that despite getting his degree from an Ivy League university, he needed more to build his foundation to success.
Harper used Obama’s decision to continue his education as an example of taking risks to chase our dreams.
“We allow other people to project fear on to us rather than actually assessing and looking at our own goals and dreams and if we actually have the foundation to support them,” he said.
Courage was his final point. Harper told the crowd that the etymology of courage comes from the French word “cor,” meaning “heart.”
“So many of us have been convinced to leave our heart behind and be up here,” he said, pointing to his brain.”Your mind is where (fear) is, your heart is what’s true to you.”
He also emphasized that if you’re not happy with what you’re doing then start doing what you love.
“If you’re in a major that’s not true to your heart, stop it,” he said. “The point of education is to increase your options not limit them.”
Harper told the audience that despite having a Harvard law degree and bachelor’s in economics from Brown University, he didn’t use either of his degrees; he decided to be an actor. Harper auditioned during the day and worked nights at a diner flipping burgers from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
He followed his heart and did what made him happy.