"Plant a tree," Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts, Jr. told the audience gathered at Catawba College on Thursday, February 21, 2008.
"I stand in the shade of trees planted by others, so how can I not plant trees?" Pitts asked. Upon reaching the age of 50, Pitts explained, he has come to the conclusion that he should "do the good thing because it is the good thing." He encouraged his listeners to take up a same mantra.
Pitts, a columnist for "The Miami Herald" whose writing is syndicated nationally, was the featured speaker for the fifth annual Lilly Colloquium, sponsored by Catawba College's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values. In addition to his regular columns, he is the author of the 1999 book, "Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood."
Pitts encouraged those gathered not to be "drugged by the trivia of popular culture," or to be paralyzed by inaction because "the challenges are so great." His own awakening to the needs of the larger world coincided with the recent advent of his 50th birthday. Since that time, he said, "I've been impatient to change the world."
"A society grows great when men plant trees that will provide shade they know they will never sit in," he explained. "What is missing is the vision and the will – the willingness to get angry and stay angry about the loss of children – the refusal to accept that just because a thing is that it always has to be."
Pitts spoke about race and how "some of us are under the misapprehension that the battle of race is over." The battle "is never quite over," he said.
"The issue is not race, it is difference. Over and over, we have been shown the inevitable outcome of that kind of thinking." He cited genocide in Darfur, Rwanda, and Nazi Germany where "millions of precious irreplaceable human beings are slaughtered for the sin of difference."
Diversity, he continued, "offers us a choice." "If you and I don't learn to speak truth in love ... I shudder to think what will happen to us in the next 50 years."
He spoke of the need for all children to have a father in their lives and the need to have substance and truth in political discourse. "Words have no intrinsic meaning," he said.
"Truth is whatever you say with a straight face and an unblinking eye.
"If we cannot agree that country comes before party ... if we can't lower the volume and raise the dialog ... this country will stagger into more misguided adventures," he asserted.
His solution: "Plant a tree."
"Life did not begin when we got here and won't end when we leave. We owe a debt to something larger than ourselves," he said. "What do you have the guts to believe and the will to achieve?"
He concluded, "I'm here to plant trees."
Catawba's Lilly Center for Vocation and Values is directed by Dr. Ken Clapp, senior vice president and chaplain. The Center was established in 2003 and funded with a $2 million grant the College received from the Lilly Endowment, Inc.
The Lilly Center seeks to help students and members of the larger community determine values for their lives and allow those values to guide decisions relative to the vocations they choose and the priorities they set. Critical to this process is the recognition that as the children of God we are called to use the talents and gifts that have been provided not only to for the realization of our own capabilities but in service to others and in making the world a better place.
Other notable speakers who have participated in the annual Lilly Colloquiums include Martin Marty, David Borenstein, Sharon Parks and Mackey Austin.
PHOTOS: Leonard Pitts Speaks at Lilly Colloquium