The Colgate Scene
March 2007

CBS commentator shares humor, insight at King event

Kia King '07 speaks in the chapel at an event celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Behind her, from left to right, are Wil Redmond '08, Courtney Walsh '10, Amber Codiroli '10, and Myra Guevara '10, members of Skin Deep. [Photo by Luke Connolly '09]

While it may not be as blatant as in years past, prejudice continues to be a problem in modern-day American society. But for Nancy Giles — who identifies herself as black — the subtle form of stereotyping she has experienced has been a source of creative inspiration. And comedy, even.

"If things had gone well for me [throughout my life], I probably wouldn't be standing in front of you now, and I definitely wouldn't be working for CBS and getting the chance to give my opinions," Giles, the CBS News Sunday Morning commentator, actress, and comedian, told members of the university and local communities at Memorial Chapel January 22. "It's funny how these struggles really do make you stronger, and how much you learn from the pain."

Giles talked about her trials and tribulations as a black actress and touched on many other issues in her humor-filled lecture, which was titled "My Wacky Adventures in Race and Racism."

Becky Blake '10 found Giles's talk both funny and uplifting.

"Her humor and lightness were extremely refreshing," she said. "I laughed non-stop, but still took away a lot from her speech."

The raucous event capped a day of activities celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorations featured a candlelight vigil for King, readings of his work, music, and student- and faculty-led presentations and workshops.

Prior to Giles's talk, a Hamilton Central School group sang; undergraduates in this year's Skin Deep retreat, a weekend-long workshop on racism and diversity, showcased a performance piece they developed; and Hamilton Central students read their winning entries in an essay contest.

Next up was Giles, and no topic was taboo. She told stories about several of her acting roles — a sympathetic drug counselor, a drug addict, a "ho," and a judge, to name a few — read a poem titled "I Hate You" that she penned about neighbors in a residence hall, and joked about old television programs.

Black History Month was also a target. "When I was a kid back in the sixties, they called it Negro History Week," she said. "My mom used to say that when she was a kid, they called it Colored People's Hour."

During several moments of seriousness, she talked about the tendency of people today to make generalizations about "the black experience." Life for African Americans — or women or Colgate undergraduates, for that matter — can't be boiled down to one single idea, she said. "It's so frustrating the way people always put you in a box. It can be really mind-numbing."

She ended by discussing a recent visit to a collection of King's memorabilia in Atlanta. "It was spine-tingling, because you realized he was a real person who walked among us — a real student who read and thought and tried to make change."

"What I'm trying to say is that all of you have that same ability ...And I just want to applaud all of you not only for being here, but for making the effort to better your lives, expand your brains, and embrace diversity."

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