Kweisi Mfume, Keynote
December 5, 2008
Kweisi Mfume: Political and Business Leader
Kweisi Mfume (pronounced Kwah-EE-see Oom-FOO-may), was born, raised and educated in Baltimore, and it was there that he followed his dreams to impact society and shape a more humane public policy. Forced to drop out of school at the age of 16 after the death of his mother, he took on odd jobs to help provide for the upkeep of his three younger sisters.
Soon, disillusionment began to set in and shortly thereafter he began running with gangs and giving in to despair. Like too many young people today he unfortunately became a teenage parent with no skills and little hope for survival.
At the age of 22, after a troubled childhood full of poverty and hopelessness, Mfume began the process of rebuilding his life. After months of study, he earned a GED certificate which allowed him to enroll in the Community College of Baltimore. He became politically active as a freshman in college, editor of the school's newspaper and as head of the Black Student Union. He went on to attend Morgan State University and graduated magna cum laude. He would later return there as an adjunct professor teaching courses in Political Science and Communications.
As Mfume's community involvement grew, so did his popularity as an activist, radio commentator, newsman and on-air personality. He translated that experience into a grassroots election victory when he won a seat on the Baltimore City Council in 1979 by a margin of just three votes. During his seven years of service in local government, he led the efforts to diversify city government, improve community safety, enhance business development and divest city funds from the apartheid government of South Africa.
In 1984, he earned a Master's degree in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in International Studies, from Johns Hopkins University. He would later go on to serve on the Governing Boards of both Johns Hopkins and Morgan State University.
In 1986, he was decisively elected to the Congressional seat that he was to hold for the next decade. As a member of Congress, Mfume was active with broad committee obligations. He served on the Banking and Financial Services Committee, and held the ranking seat on the General Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. He also served as a member of the Committee on Education and as a senior member of the Small Business Committee.
While in his third term, the Speaker of the House chose him to serve on the Ethics Committee and the Joint Economic Committee of the House and Senate, where he later became the Chairman. As a member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Mfume consistently advocated landmark business and civil rights legislation. He successfully co-sponsored and helped to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act and strengthened the Equal Credit Opportunity Law. He co-authored and successfully amended the Civil Rights Bill of 1991 to apply the Act to U.S. citizens working for American-based companies abroad. He also sponsored legislative initiatives banning assault weapons and establishing stalking as a federal crime. Mfume has served as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and during his last term in Congress, he was appointed by the House Democratic Caucus as the party's Vice-Chairman for Communications.
Mfume became President and Chief Executive Officer of the NAACP on February 20, 1996, after being unanimously elected to the post and served there for 9 years. During that time he significantly raised the national profile of the NAACP while helping to restore its prominence among the nation's civil rights organizations. Mfume is credited with helping to raise over 100 million dollars in outside contributions for the organization while at the same time developing its national Corporate Diversity Project and establishing 75 new college based NAACP chapters. His five point program of advocacy included civil rights enforcement, educational excellence, economic empowerment, health advocacy and youth outreach. In 2006 he was a candidate for the United States Senate from the State of Maryland.
Mfume was formerly a member of the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, the Advisory Board of the Schomburg Commission, People for the American Way, the Meyerhof Scholars Advisory Board of the University of Maryland and the Senior Advisory Committee of the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is presently a member of the Gamma Boulé Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity; the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Masons, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
He currently serves on the Johns Hopkins University Board of Trustees, the Morgan State University Board of Regents, the African American Advisory Board of PepsiCo and the National Advisory Council of Boy Scouts of America.
His background in broadcasting includes 13 years in radio. For nine years he hosted the award-winning television show, "The Bottom Line," and for 5 years he hosted the nationally syndicated NBC - Hearst TV special "The Remarkable Journey." He is the recipient of the 2005 Telly Award for best independent TV documentary. He has made appearances as a guest commentator on the ABC "This Week" program and currently writes a national column on current events for "Black America Web.Com."
The recipient of ten honorary doctorate degrees and hundreds of other awards, proclamations and citations, his former best selling autobiography is entitled, No Free Ride.