Campus Life

Sterling K. Brown and Dr. Clarence B. Jones Share Wisdom at USF

The latest Silk Speaker Series sparks inspiring conversation.

by Garrett Starr, Office of Development Communications

Nearly 1,000 attendees packed the Sobrato Center on February 6, eager with anticipation for the evening’s conversation between Dr. Clarence B. Jones and Sterling K. Brown — two thought leaders in the realms of social justice and entertainment.

The Silk Speaker Series at the University of San Francisco presented the event, Legacy and Leadership, in partnership with the USF Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice.

“I’m excited for the talk because Martin Luther King Jr. is an idol of mine and [Dr.] Clarence B. Jones is a living connection to him as his legal counsel — I always enjoy his talks,” said USF faculty member Michelle Hector. “I’m an [alum] from USF, with my doctorate, and I teach in the Schools of Management and Education. I love that they’re doing a Black history event and providing knowledge, wisdom, and connecting community.”

Stephanie D. Sears, associate dean for social sciences and associate professor of sociology at USF, spoke and facilitated the talk.

“In thinking about tonight's conversation, we realized that Dr. Jones and Brown are two men who span different generations and different fields in professional life,” said Sears. “But, they share common experiences and some really interesting synchronicities that bring them together.”

Sears, who co-created the African American Studies program and the Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) initiative at USF, began the evening by asking Brown and Jones what the personas they portray in their careers mean to them.

A multi-award-winning actor and activist, Brown is an Emmy and Golden Globe recipient and is currently nominated for the 2024 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in American Fiction. He shared insight on navigating different life phases, based on his experiences.

I’m just a man who loves what I do — who loves to illuminate the human condition. Who is inspired to entertain, to educate, to edify — who sees it as his ministry,” said Brown. “Some people use pen and paper… I just pretend to be people!"

Sterling K. Brown

“I’m just a man who loves what I do — who loves to illuminate the human condition. Who is inspired to entertain, to educate, to edify — who sees it as his ministry,” said Brown. “Some people use pen and paper… I just pretend to be people!

“But I think living your life in authenticity is the most important thing. My roles give me a platform to be able to share myself with the world, but once I’m there, I just try to be true to myself.”

Dr. Jones is the former lawyer, political adviser, and draft speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Credited with writing the first seven paragraphs of the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, he is the founder of the eponymous Institute for Social Advocacy at USF, serves as the founding director emeritus of the Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice and is an honorary doctorate recipient (’19).

He shared entertaining and thoughtful pieces of knowledge derived from working with James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Robeson, and others. In addition, Dr. Jones described lessons from his own education and athletic career at Columbia University.

Dr. Jones concluded by asking Brown how, with the public gaze always on him, he is able to maintain such a disciplined commitment to the pursuit of excellence and be so proud to be Black.

Brown said, “I’m keenly aware with everything that I do that I walk upon the shoulders of giants. I do want to be the fulfillment of a promise. So much sacrifice has been made in our collective history for me to be here.

“With each step I take, it’s with the knowledge, the humility, that I couldn’t be here without you. I couldn’t be here if these individuals didn’t forge a path for it to be easier for me. And I have a responsibility to make it a little bit easier for anybody who comes after me.”

Dr. Jones replied, “The pursuit of excellence knows no gender. Knows no color. It knows nothing but the pursuit of excellence. You are a living exemplar of the pursuit of excellence.”

The Silk Speaker Series, funded by Jeff and Naomi Silk, invites thought leaders in business, culture, and global affairs to share their wisdom and ideas with students, alumni, faculty, and friends of the university.

Learn more about how you can support the Institute of Nonviolence and Social Justice at USF.