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Civil Rights as Catalyst for Social Change to be Explored at University of Hartford

Posted 09/02/2014
Posted by David Isgur

“Empowering Change,” a landmark week-long initiative celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing into law of the Civil Rights Act, will offer an array of programs and observances during the week of Sept. 14-22 to encourage reflection, dialogue, and action in civil rights and social change.

The first-of-its-kind series is being held at the University of Hartford, with the generous support of Newman’s Own Foundation and in collaboration with the Library of Congress.  Events are free of charge and open to the University community and the general public, with particular focus in four realms presenting opportuniEmpowering Changeties to Educate, Participate, Activate, and Celebrate.

“Empowering Change” will bring notable leaders of present-day change initiatives and the civil rights movement to the University campus to stimulate discussion, share experiences, and inspire students and members of the community to pursue meaningful change to improve the world around them. Events will include interactive workshops; panel discussions; social change resource and volunteer fairs; an essay competition; a community sports clinic; music, poetry, art, and much more — all built around the themes of civil rights and social change.

The week is designed to serve as a catalyst for social change, using historic accomplishment to inform present and future opportunities to preserve and extend freedom, justice, and human dignity. Programming will highlight how the Civil Rights Act can inspire moral courage and commitment to helping others, and expand understanding of the social movements that define civil rights 50 years forward and beyond.

Catalysts for Change, Then and Now

Among the distinguished national and local leaders are: Bob Moses, civil rights leader and founder of the Algebra Project; Eva Paterson, civil rights attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Society; Erika Maye, civil rights activist and founder of Active Voices; Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut; civil rights leader Ruby Sales; and Stephanie Capparell, author of The Real Pepsi Challenge.

Speakers also include Marie Spivey, vice president of health equity for the Connecticut Hospital Association; Rabbi Stanley Kessler of West Hartford’s Beth El Temple; education equity activist and former Hartford City Council member Elizabeth Horton Sheff; Hartford Superintendent of Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez; State Senator Beth Bye; Kate Emery, CEO of Walker Group and reSET Social Enterprise Trust; Hartford business leader and former State Senator Sanford Cloud; and Oz Greibel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance.

The week will include four major panel discussions: 

  • On Wednesday morning, Sept. 17, “Leveling the Playing Field:  Education and Health Care,” will be moderated by Diane Orson of Connecticut Public Radio, as educators, policymakers and providers discuss inequities surrounding access to education and healthcare.
  • That evening, What Would You Do? will include social activists talking about ways to address discrimination, and how our reactions can reinforce moral courage to empower change.  September 17 is also Constitution Day.
  • On Thursday, Sept. 18, “Social Enterprise:  Business as Leaders of Social Change,” will be moderated by Elizabeth Gagne, vice president and chief administrative officer at Travelers.
  • The concluding panel on Monday, Sept. 22, “Empowering Change: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” will be moderated by veteran journalist and former White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers, who served in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Civil Rights Act into law.  At the panel discussion featuring prominent civil rights leaders, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters will be awarded to James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress.

Among the week’s programs, on Thursday, Sept. 18, “Leading the Way in Innovation” will feature remarks by Guion Bluford and highlight people and programs empowering change through engineering, technology, science and architecture.  The University of Hartford will recognize five organizations for their contributions: JCJ Architecture, Pratt and Whitney, Engineers Without Borders, NASA and Newman’s Own. 

Directly following that program on Sept. 18, “Voices of Yesterday – Leaders of Tomorrow,” will feature remarks by civil rights activist Ruby Sales and five finalists in an essay contest in which University students researched a leader who has not received great public attention but had a large impact in the Civil Rights movement. Essay judges include Benjamin Foster, Connecticut NAACP education committee chairman, and Rob King, senior vice president at ESPN.

“With the call to action “Empowering Change, What Can I Do?” we honor the civil rights movement’s legacy and encourage additional change where needed for the present and the future,” said University of Hartford President Walter Harrison.  “This is an excellent teaching and learning opportunity, as well as a chance for our community to become inspired, motivated, and involved. It is a perfect fit with the University’s values, history, and mission.”  Harrison noted with appreciation the leadership of Newman’s Own Foundation President Bob Forrester, a University alumnus and regent.

Honoring History in Washington, Inspiring Action in Hartford

The week-long initiative at the University of Hartford follows the Sept. 9 opening of the Library of Congress exhibition, The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Long Road to Freedom, in Washington, D.C, supported by Newman’s Own Foundation.

“Newman’s Own Foundation is pleased to support these programs, with the hope that they inspire people to engage in conversation and action that can help to overcome obstacles, achieve positive change, and contribute to making this a better world,” said President and CEO Robert H. Forrester.   

Newman’s Own Foundation was founded in 2005 by Paul Newman to sustain the legacy of this philanthropic work, and it is funded entirely through the profits and royalties from the sale of Newman’s Own products. Since 1982, Paul Newman and the foundation have donated more than $400 million to thousands of nonprofit organizations around the world.

Assistance provided by the Library of Congress enables the Empowering Change initiative to benefit from the Library’s historic civil rights exhibition, extending the reach of its content through materials provided directly to teachers and libraries for use throughout the region to encourage enrichment activities, programs, and meaningful dialogue and action. The IDEA Book, produced by the Library of Congress, Newman’s Own Foundation and the History channel, has been distributed to 1,300 K-12 classrooms in Greater Hartford and all public libraries in Connecticut. 

A full schedule of events, including profiles of all the featured speakers, locations and directions, is available at The programs will reach across multiple academic disciplines and will involve University faculty, staff, alumni, and students, and distinguished guests from the Hartford region and beyond. The hashtag #whatcanido will be used throughout the week by students and other participants, stimulating a community conversation on social media.