Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, and his wife Rosalynn, spoke before an almost full Ford Fieldhouse today, as part of Grand Rapids Community College’s 100th anniversary.
During the kick off event of the 20th anniversary of GRCC’s Diversity Lecture Series, President Carter talked about the main subjects in his new book, “A Call to Action”, including the treatment of women worldwide. The former first lady spoke primarily on the issue of mental illness.
President Carter started off the lecture by referring to one of Grand Rapids’ most famous natives.
“The finest public servant I’ve ever known came from Grand Rapids, Gerald Ford,” Carter said to a round of applause.
“Gerald Ford was my personal friend,” Carter said. “When we had the 200th celebration of the birth of the White House, the national historians…all agree, the two closest associations between former presidents…were between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. I am deeply grateful for that.”
Carter went on to praise GRCC and the Diversity Lecture Series, which according to him has the same mission as the Carter Center. One of the major subjects of Carter’s speech was the discrimination of women on a global scale, as well as on college campuses.
“The average woman, who enrolls in a U.S. university, is sexually assaulted one out of five, before she finishes the four years,” Carter said. “(Just like) if a girl is raped in the military, they are discouraged from making any kind of a report.”
After president Carter, Rosalynn spoke on the issue that she is most passionate about – the fight against mental illness. She placed an emphasis on the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“Stigma is so severe that people do not go for help because they don’t want to be labeled as mentally ill,” the former first lady said. “One in four people in our country will develop a mental illness every year. Mental illness is a leading cause of disability in the United States.”
President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn’s informative lectures were eye openers for those in attendance who had not read the book, and attendees lined up out the door waiting to buy copies of ‘A Call to Action’ after the lecture. The Carters’ message seemed to resignate with students, faculty, staff and community members.
Nathaniel Moody, a GRCC graduate from the class of 1988, and a current pastor said that he did not know sexual slavery is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, and across the globe.
“I felt wonderful about his role in politics,” Moody said. “He has not forgotten what the country is about, and what the country needs to be.”
Mayor of Grand Rapids, George Heartwell, said that he was most interested in the way the Carters made the transition from the global issues of peace, and peacemaking into the issues of violence against women.
“They are two remarkable human beings,” Heartwell said.
Elias Lumpkins Jr., a current Grand Rapids Third Ward Commissioner and GRCC alumni of the class of 1960 said that he thought Carter was more forward thinking in the terms of social justice.
“As he was brought up in the south, I think he understands and appreciates some of the injustices that occur there,” Lumpkins said. “We use the Bible to justify things, but he shows that the Bible does not discriminate against anyone (with) the teachings of Jesus.”
Flora Garcia, President of the GRCC Hispanic Student Organization said the lecture was shocking because many people still get surprised on topics they should be more aware of.
“We need to do something about it,” Garcia said. “We need to be, like they mentioned, more educated and not ignore these problems and actually learn more about it.”
Although 3,200 tickets were given out for the event, the fieldhouse was not filled to its full capacity Monday.
Before the lecture, Carter signed copies of his latest book at an event that was closed to the media. GRCC Board of Trustees member, Ellen James, said that Carter’s experience and value of education made him a great person kick off the lecture series
“(I) can’t think of a more fitting person for the 100th anniversary,” James said.
A reception followed the lecture, however, that event was closed to campus media as well.