The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday October 18th

Martin Speech Centers On `Power of One' Idea

The man who worked to free boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter came to campus Tuesday to share his experience with "The Power of One" -- the theme of Race Relations Week.

Lesra Martin, the keynote speaker of the week's events, spoke Tuesday both at an intimate noon discussion and in an energized speech that night about growing up on the streets and about conquering obstacles.

Martin, illiterate and a street kid at the age of 15, was taken in at that time by a group of Canadian entrepreneurs and taught to read and write.

He said his interest in a book by Carter is what taught him how to read. He investigated Carter's case and became convinced of the boxer's innocence and wrongful imprisonment for murder. Martin helped mount an eight-year case that freed Carter. The movie "The Hurricane" starring Denzel Washington is based on this story.

Raj Panjabi, co-president of the Campus Y, which is sponsoring Race Relations Week, said Martin was included in the week to talk about student power and how one person can have a great impact.

"I think his story is really inspirational," Panjabi said. "A person who goes through an amazing story like that has a lot to say to young people."

Paymon Rouhanifard, co-chairman of Students for the Advancement of Race Relations, also said he hoped Martin illustrated how one person can change many lives.

At the luncheon, Martin led a discussion among a small group of people. He focused the talk on the problems of the education system and the criminal justice system.

"It is a sad reality that in Canada and the U.S., half the adult population are functionally illiterate," Martin said. "In the world's mightiest nation, that is unacceptable."

Tuesday night's speech, which opened with a clip of Martin on the Oprah Winfrey Show, focused more on the theme of the week. Martin, a lawyer and motivational speaker, began his speech vibrantly and full of energy, a mood which carried throughout the night.

He enthusiastically spoke words of encouragement to an audience of about 150 people in the Carroll Hall auditorium. "Success itself really is dependent on one thing -- one's ability to believe that anything they believe in can be done," he said.

By sharing his journey of overcoming the obstacles in his youth, Martin put a personal touch on the power of one person, which he said should never be mistaken. "I'm here to remind you to continue to imagine nothing but the best in life," he said. "Always let the story of Lesra remind you, in each of you there is the power of one."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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