BY SARAH KNAPP
UT Martin University Relations
MARTIN (January 20) – The University of Tennessee at Martin 21st annual Civil Rights Conference will feature virtual events throughout the month of February, including presentations from five world-renowned social justice activists to discuss this year’s theme “Power, Protest and Privilege: Examining the Fractured State of America.” The 2021 Civil Rights Conference is sponsored by the UT Martin Office of Student Life and Multicultural Affairs.
Traditionally a week-long event is filled with campus activities, but the COVID-19 pandemic shifted this year’s conference online. Anthony Prewitt, co-interim director of student life and multicultural affairs, said he is confident the schedule of events spanning the entire month of February will bring awareness to the continued fight for social justice.
“The fight to ensure civil rights continues to be a major movement throughout the globe,” Prewitt said. “By our institution’s commitment to continue not only looking at civil rights from a historical perspective, but examining the current and future elements of it, we assist in educating our campus and community and providing a platform for change agents and makers to ensure that those civil liberties and rights are guaranteed to all,” he added.
The Office of Student Life and Multicultural Affairs has scheduled five experts to speak during the conference, including UT Martin alumnus and CNN commentator Van Jones. The speeches will be livestreamed via Zoom to the official UT Martin Facebook (facebook.com/utmartin) and YouTube (youtube.com/utmartin) accounts. All events will be livestreamed in Central Standard Time.
Nikki Giovanni, an internationally-known poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator will kick off the Civil Rights Conference with her presentation “Tennessean by Birth; Poet by Choice” at 7 p.m., Tuesday, February 2. Giovanni has taught as a distinguished professor at Virginia Tech since 1987 and is the author of more than two dozen books, including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books and three collections of essays. Giovanni was voted #1 poet for the spring of 2007 by the Academy of American Poets and prides herself on being “a Black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English.”
On February 16, Jarrod Benjamin, adjunct professor and program director of the Florida International University Cybersecurity Apprenticeship, will address the topic “Change Agent Leaders: From Oppressed to Success” at 7 p.m. Benjamin also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of The LEAD Firm where he is responsible for curriculum development, leadership training, as well as an organization consultant for more than 120 colleges and universities across the country. He is the founder and host of the Black and Multicultural Greek EMPOWERMENT Summit – Atlanta Edition and is a recipient of the United States President’s Lifetime Award.
Van Jones, a 1990 UT Martin graduate, will discuss “Rebuilding the Dream: The Next American Economy” at 7 p.m., February 18. Jones is the CEO of REFORM Alliance, a social entrepreneur, CNN political commentator and host of Redemption Project and The Van Jones Show. Jones has founded and led many social enterprises focused in social and environmental justice, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change, Rebuild the Dream, The Dream Corps and Magic Labs Media. After graduating from UT Martin, Jones earned his law degree from Yale University and has advocated for political reform.
Dr. Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, longtime professor, author, preacher and media personality, will present “A Conversation of Minds” at 7 p.m., February 23.
As well as being a New York Times Bestseller author, DiAngelo is an affiliate associate professor of education at the University of Washington. She has also been a consultant and trainer for more than 20 years on issues of racial and social justice.
Dyson earned his Ph.D. in religion from Princeton University and has spent more than 30 years lecturing in some of the nation’s most distinguished universities, as well serving as a media commentator and host. Dyson has authored more than 20 books including New York Times Bestseller “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America” and his most recent book “Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America.”
More virtual events scheduled for the 2021 Civil Rights Conference include:
- February 3: Black History Month Music Trivia; 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.;
- February 10: Alumni Engagement Series: Black Authors & Their Stories; 7 p.m.;
- February 11: “Local Lynchings and Why They Still Matter”; 7 p.m.; Weakley County Reconciliation Project;
- February 25: NPHC Movie Night
Other events that are to be scheduled for the conference include a student activist panel, Black Alumni Experience, a documentary addressing confederate statues with Dr. David Coffey, UT Martin professor of history, a trans-rights event with Dr. Lindsay Anderson, UT Martin associate professor of sociology, and a Know Your Rights event with both Coffey and Anderson. For more information, contact Prewitt.
“I hope that with all that has been occurring over the past few years, that we can learn to see one another for our hearts, good deeds, and minds, rather through the vile eyes of bigotry, racism and hatred,” Prewitt said. “I want our students to walk away feeling empowered and inspired that they are the key to stamping out the systemic barriers in place. I want our faculty, staff and community members to find value in our institution’s commitment to continuing telling the stories that are often lost over the years. I want all to leave with a willingness to be change agents and to always push the agenda of love and kindness … and not hate,” he added.
For more information about the Civil Rights Conference, contact Prewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org.