Emilie Tomas, Contributor
Center for Wellness and Counseling (CWC) Convocation featured Dr. Gloria Burgess who delivered her talk “Greatness Lives in All of Us!” last Thursday. As an inspirational speaker, poet and consultant, Dr. Burgess has travelled around the world and worked with organizations like Microsoft, Starbucks and the Women’s International Network.
Convocation opened with a warm introduction from the CWC after which Dr. Burgess took to the Hoversten Chapel podium. She opened by asking who in the audience knew that greatness lay within them. While many raised their hand in response, they did so hesitantly. Dr. Burgess promised enthusiastic yeses by the end of her speech. Many sat in anticipation of the foolproof recipe for self-love that Dr. Burgess was to bestow. Instead, she spoke mainly through anecdotes about her own life, beginning with her experience growing up in a segregated town in Mississippi. She recounted the painful ways in which she and her family were belittled and disrespected.
Even after moving to Detroit, where she spent most of her formative years, her family would make their return trips through mid-America to Mississippi at night so as not to alarm anyone who might see them in daylight. She recounted her father’s emphasis on education. He had been able to attend college through the funding of Nobel laureate William Faulkner and lauded the merits of education to anyone who would listen. Finally, she recounted an event she had been invited to speak at where she made the decision to go off script, opting instead to speak from the heart about her own life experiences. Her speech was met with thunderous applause.
One impressed audience member was Her Excellency Dr. Konji Sebati of South Africa. After getting to know each other, Dr. Burgess was invited to speak at the commemoration of the 1956 Women’s March in Pretoria, South Africa. While there, she learned about the startling parallels between South Africa’s apartheid and her own experiences with racism in America. Yet despite heavy themes of injustice, Dr. Burgess remained joyful. It was with sage reverence that she spoke to the capacity for resilience not just in herself but in everyone in the audience. And as promised, the chapel was full of raised hands the second time she asked who had greatness within them.
This presentation was part of Augsburg’s Convocation series. While it will be a year before the next Center for Wellness and Counseling Convocation, the Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation will be coming up on Jan. 21.
This article was originally published in the Nov. 16, 2018 issue.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Burgess.