Let's Hear It For The Crossover Generation

Posted: May 21, 1992

PEMBROKE, N.C. — "This is a day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it," the Rev. Jerry Lowry prayed.

If God is a multicultural advocate (and she is), then it just doesn't get any better than this: a Native American Methodist minister, quoting a psalm by a Jewish king at a predominantly white Southern university in the Lumbee tribe's heartland, whose commencement speaker is a black Baptist.

The Lumbees are America's second-largest tribe. But because of opposition by North Carolina's courtly antediluvian, Sen. Jesse Helms, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has refused to recognize the Lumbees as a legitimate tribe.

Writing that last sentence, I was struck by how silly it is. Here we are celebrating a 500th anniversary of the historical nonsense that Columbus ''discovered" a land where people had thrived for centuries, and we're still talking about whether they should be "recognized"!

For decades, the three races - white, black and Indian - in Lumbee heartland, Robeson County, mostly went their separate ways.

Today's Simi Valley, Calif., has replaced yesterday's Montgomery, Ala., as the national symbol of racism. Women finally are going for the gold in politics. College campuses are reawakening to off-campus problems.

Under Dr. Joseph B. Oxendine, Pembroke State University's chancellor, the campus has been forging closer ties among the three races. Pembroke State's student body is 64 percent white, 24 percent Indian and 11 percent black. So it was an exquisitely appropriate setting for my commencement tribute to "the crossover generation."

"Before you," I told the radiantly multicultural faces of 503 graduates, ''there were the free speech activists, the civil rights activists, the

Vietnam War protesters and the 'me' generations.

"But you are the crossover generation. Look at your musical and recreational worlds. Your musical tastes range from Michael Jackson and the rap litanies of Ice-T to the lyrical sensuousness of Madonna and the country music of Wynonna Judd.

"Even while Los Angeles, like Rome, was burning, it still didn't stop hundreds of white and black kids from overflowing the auditorium each night to catch television's philosophical king of multiculturalism, Arsenio Hall.

" . . . As the crossover generation, you are a moral locomotive for progress - an insistent voice for multiculturalism in the university curriculum - laid-back partners in interracial marriages that have tripled in the last 25 years.

"This is a wonderful nation, blessed with extraordinary wealth. But it is also a nation of hopeless homeless, rural poverty, racial polarization and sexist oppression. . . .

"This is a time of testing. Jobs are not plentiful. But the crossover generation is well-endowed with brains and bravery. We expect you to succeed where we have failed."

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