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Meeks tells Richmond Hill students how to be leaders

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Meeks' appearance was part of a weeklong C-SPAN and Time Warner Cable project, Students & Leaders: New York City, to bring national leaders to 10 city high schools to discuss their careers and views on leadership and public service.

Sharing his own public school experience as a black youth in New York, Meeks said "2004 is not like 1954. It's bad today, but you can't even imagine how bad it was in 1954 and before. America is a better place because of Brown."

      In the aftermath of the landmark case, Meeks, an East Harlem native, switched grammar schools as a third grader. "I was bused downtown to 66th Street and York to a school where there was very few African Americans," he said.

      After high school, he enrolled at Adelphi University. In the second semester of his freshman year, he was chosen to serve on an admissions committee responsible for selecting recipients for the Malcolm X Scholarship, established through the efforts of Meeks and other activists who "wanted change to happen fast."

This led to Meeks' further involvement in campus politics, including the Black Student Union, where Meeks served as president.

      He said his campus and community involvement stemmed from his mother's influence. She had long been active in community organizations and encouraged Meeks to do the same.

      "I wanted to be a lawyer in the same vein as Thurgood Marshall," who represented Oliver Brown in the historical Supreme Court case, Meeks said. "From the time I was in the sixth grade ... I knew that I always wanted to be a lawyer. But, until his election to the state Assembly, Meeks was content serving in politics as "the person behind the scenes."

      After graduating from Howard University Law School in Washington, Meeks returned to New York, working as an assistant district attorney He admitted to the students that his election to the New York State Assembly, after redistricting in 1990, was a fluke. "I never thought I would run for anything," Meeks said. During a special election he defeated his opponent by just 253 votes. "Every vote counts," Meeks told the future voters.

      After addressing the students he answered many of their questions, touching on issues ranging from Brown vs. the Board of Education to the Iraq war.

      "I thought it (the war) was wrong," he said. "We can't win the hearts and minds of Iraqi people the way we went about it. ... How we went about it was completely wrong."

      Meeks criticized President Bush's economic policies as well, admitting he would like to see some tax cuts rescinded. "You want to make sure the tax burden is fair," he said.

      Addressing a student's question about Social Security, Meeks praised the student's interest and encouraged others to speak out on the issue because a lack of future funding is more likely to be "problematic for a high school senior" than today's older Americans.

"(Social security) is not going to affect seniors at all. It's your Social Security that's at stake. ... "I'm not going to have to pay for it - you will," he said.

      C-SPAN, the public affairs network, will air the appearances of Meeks and other leaders nationally through May 28 and will also archive the video for the project's web site: studentsandleaders.org.

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