Social justice panelists hope discussion will inspire change


Civil Rights Summit

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

At the Civil Rights Summit panel “Social Justice in the 21st Century: Empowering Minds, Changing Hearts, and Inspiring Service,” panelists from varying backgrounds agreed that despite the progress of civil rights, there is still work to be done to improve life for many groups in America.

David Robinson, a former Spurs player and a member of the basketball hall of fame, raised $40 million for The Carver Academy, a non-profit private school founded to serve the culturally diverse student population of San Antonio.

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Robinson said he tries to remind his sons of the people who fought for equality during the civil rights movement. As a basketball player, Robinson said he sang the national anthem every game and remembered every person who was unable to be in the position he was in.

“They laid their lives down so I could stand on their shoulders,” Robinson said.

Former first lady of California, Maria Shriver, who produced the Shriver Report, said she felt motivated to participate in the panel on behalf of women. The Shriver Report revealed poverty and inequality through women’s eyes. According to Shriver, one-third of American women are living on or near the brink of poverty.

Shriver said social justice is not just about black versus white, but about many issues including immigration and marriage equality. She also said she hopes all women will vote to help affect change. 

“It is women who will decide this next presidential race,” Shriver said. “I believe government can do better, I believe businesses can do better and I believe women can do better.”


Steve Stoute, CEO of the marketing firm Translation, has created cultural movements to increase brand recognition for labels such as State Farm, Budweiser and McDonald’s.

Stoute and Robinson both agreed that in the 21st century, any discrimination toward gay people in America is out of place. Stoute said he hopes speaking at the Civil Rights Summit about the discrimination gay people face will help push legislation forward.

“We should be way past that in America, at this point in time,” Stoute said. “If people are spreading love, it doesn’t make a difference what they’re doing.”

Robinson said that as a basketball player, he sees no problem with an athlete being gay or straight, and these players should not try to hide who they are.

“It’s how you face those same times that make make people respect who you are,” Robinson said. “Make them respect you by the way you carry yourself.”

Lex Frieden, an architect for the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law enacted in 1990 that prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities, discussed the challenges those with disabilities faced in the workplace and in other aspects of society. He highlighted the progress President Obama helped make for Americans with disabilities.

“This president has filled the one gap that we regretted the most in the act — that was healthcare,” Frieden said. “Until the Affordable Care Act, people with disabilities could be legally discriminated in healthcare.”

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more to any person based on their medical history.

Frieden said after he broke his neck, he was denied admission into a major university because of his disability. He said this discrimination showed him the challenges people faced before the Civil Rights Act was implemented.

“It just struck me, like maybe this is what people feel like,” Frieden said. “They can’t do anything because of a characteristic they don’t have any control over.”

Biology pre-med junior Sahare Wazirali, publicity coordinator for UT’s Amnesty International chapter, said the past three days at the summit were important to start a conversation about social justice and human rights issues.

UT Amnesty International works to educate students about human rights injustices around the world.

“In social justice we don’t really see people standing up for issues that are controversial because they’re scary, and the opposition can be threatening,” Wazirali said.

Wazirali said society should focus more on women’s issues in America. During the panel, Shriver said the American family has changed dramatically in the 21st century, and the working woman is the new face of poverty.

“We’re always talking about women’s rights abroad and how women are being denied access to education and health care, but here in America, besides not getting equal pay, thankfully we have a lot of our rights granted,” Wazirali said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”