For a small college in a small city, Talladega College has been successful in attracting some big-name individuals to come and interact with students and staff, with invitations for the community to take part as well.

Both Martin Luther Kings — Jr. and Sr. — made journeys to Talladega, and the junior King first met Ambassador Andrew Young on the college campus. Former presidential candidate Gary Hart spoke there, and entertainers Bill Cosby and Macolm-Jamal Warner. Sports figures Hank Aaron and Shaquille O’Neal have been at the college, as have astronauts Ron McNair and Mae Jemison. Artist Hale Woodruff created the Amistad mural series for the college, and he taught art to students there as well. Several of them, along with a series of other notable individuals, spoke at college events that were open to the public.

This week the college hosted a convocation featuring the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, best-known as being the pastor where President Barack Obama attended church in Chicago. Controversial sound bites from some of Wright’s messages made him a nationally known figure when they were circulated by Obama’s political opponents in an effort to hurt his chances of winning election to the nation’s highest office. Those sound bites deeply offended many Americans, and some will forever remember Wright as the man who cursed our nation.

His appearance in Talladega Tuesday, with an open invitation to the public, gave people an opportunity to get a broader view of the kind of person he is.

Appropriate to the occasion — a weather-delayed assembly marking both King’s birthday and Black History Month — Wright summarized four centuries of the history of blacks in America, including slavery, the civil rights struggle, and the continuing existence of prejudice and racism in our country. Unlike the sound bites, those in attendance also heard Wright tell listeners to turn to God for solutions, and he also filled DeForest Chapel with laughter. As an analogy to his theme of looking in the wrong places for help, he sang a medley of songs — complete with dance moves — on the theme of looking for love in the wrong places, spanning several generations of music as he went.

Learning more about people, who they are and why they think as they do, should be a prime objective of any educational institution. By inviting the public to attend its convocations, Talladega College extends that opportunity beyond its student body to the community — a remarkable opportunity for people to better understand each other.