Utah human rights group honors actor Gossett
Civil rights • Lt. Gov. Bell says Martin Luther King Jr. was “sent from God.”
Published: January 11, 2013 10:48PM
Updated: July 11, 2013 01:56PM
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Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. attends the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Luncheon at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center on Friday. Gossett delivered a speech that touched on his Eracism Foundation — the elimination of racism through programs fostering cultural diversity and promoting antiviolence initiatives.

West Valley City • Actor Louis Gossett Jr. became the first non-Utah resident to be honored with the state’s human right’s commission Drum Major Award Friday at a luncheon in West Valley City — a gesture that choked up the Academy Award winner.

“My message to you is … there is no such thing as impossible,” Gossett said in a halting voice. “No such thing.”

The 76-year-old star of “An Officer and a Gentleman” — for which he won an Oscar in 1982 — and the science-fiction drama “Enemy Mine” picked up the award at the Martin Luther King Jr. Utah Human Rights Commission’s 13th annual luncheon, which honors the memory of the slain civil-rights leader.

The commission was established in 1999 when then-Gov. Michael Leavitt signed an executive order for its creation and to promote principles of human rights.

Gossett delivered a 10-minute speech that touched on the driving theme of his Eracism Foundation — the elimination of racism through programs fostering cultural diversity and promoting antiviolence initiatives.

He urged the crowd of about 200 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center to promote peace through education and drew upon his personal experience of being raised by his grandmother in Brooklyn. He said she raised him and 25 cousins to respect everyone every day by taking the time to learn about other cultures.

“When we walked out that door to school, we were prepared to learn,” he said.

The luncheon also featured Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who spoke for about 10 minutes and said he believed Martin Luther King Jr. was “sent from God” and that he exposed the lingering effects of slavery and racism in America.

“It was institutionalized in the laws of the land and institutionalized in the hearts of people,” Bell said. “And while we have make remarkable progress in the legal sense … we still know there are hurdles yet to be jumped.”

The commission also honored Charlene Lui, director for educational equality at the Granite School District, with the Drum Major Award. The name was culled from King’s speech in 1968 that talks about the desire to lead and be out in front on an important issue.

The awards were presented to Gossett and Lui by Forrest Crawford, who also was a recipient. Crawford is a Weber State University professor of education.

dmontero@sltrib.com