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Dome - A Celebrated Guest and a Gentleman

February 2010

A Celebrated Guest and a Gentleman

By: Judy F. Minkove
Date: February 4, 2010

A Celebrated Guest and a Gentleman

Lou Gossett captivates his audience at the event that “has become a beautiful, meaningful, beloved gathering of people of all colors,” says MLK tribute chair Levi Watkins.
Lou Gossett captivates his audience at the event that “has become a beautiful, meaningful, beloved gathering of people of all colors,” says MLK tribute chair Levi Watkins.

For Lou Gossett Jr., diversity isn’t a buzzword; it’s a way of life. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born veteran actor regaled an overflow audience at the 28th annual Martin Luther King Commemoration last month with stories about growing up around elite college professors and their families from all over the world.

That’s when Gossett learned about cultural differences. “We need to observe the diversity around us,” he urged his audience, “and appreciate the progress that has been made because of it.”

Referring to the fact that an African-American president is finally in the White House, Gossett added, “You are now in the Promised Land.” Although he said “there’s still a lot to complain about,” he warned against dwelling on the anger and resentment born from racism. 

The 6-foot-4-inch actor has enjoyed an extensive career in theater, film and television, which included his Emmy Award-winning role in Roots and his Academy Award-winning performance in An Officer and a Gentleman.

In a Dome phone interview, Gossett, 73, said his most memorable roles were in Roots (“We finally had a chance to tell our story on such a large scale”) and as Anwar Sadat (“Like MLK, he laid the groundwork for us”).

Gossett also recalled one of the greatest moments of his life: a backstage meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, following a gig with Sammy Davis Jr. The 1968 event raised money for the Montgomery, Ala., march.

Meeting King that night in New York, recalled Gossett, “was magical.” Then 31, Gossett would later travel to Montgomery for the march, as would Levi Watkins, Hopkins professor of cardiac surgery and the MLK event founder and organizer, who knew King well.

“Dr. King was put here for the purpose of leading us to a path, which all people must strive to follow,” Gossett told the 750 guests in Turner Auditorium. “The worst thing was that [after his death] we justified being resentful and self-defeating.”

Gossett added that he wants to replace the negative and divisive effects of discrimination with “the belief that we belong.” To that end, in 2006, Gossett founded the Eracism Foundation. The nonprofit’s mission is to raise awareness about racism, ignorance, diversity and apathy through nonviolence, educational programs and entertainment.

Before Gossett took the podium, Vice President of General Services Kenneth Grant presented eight members of the Hopkins community with the annual Martin Luther King Community Service awards in recognition of their commitment to social service.

Afterwards, Gossett and Grant were given “Ideal” awards in recognition of outstanding service and commitment to King’s principles.

Said Johns Hopkins Dean of the Medical Faculty Edward Miller, “Never forget that it is our task to cherish Dr. King’s dream until it is no longer a dream, but a reality.”

—JFM / Faith Erline contributed to this article.

To watch the event, visit

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