Black Lives Matter co-founder speaks at Vanderbilt symposium

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors

Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors will deliver the evening keynote address during a Vanderbilt University transdisciplinary symposium exploring the impact of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on struggles for racial and social justice Thursday, Sept. 20.

Cullors’ talk, which begins at 7:30 pm in Langford Auditorium, will conclude the daylong symposium, ‘From Martin Luther King Jr. to Black Lives Matter: 50 Years of Struggle.’ Seats remain open for Cullors’ address, with registration requested.

Seating is now full for the morning panels, lunchtime keynote and afternoon panels on Sept. 20, but plans are underway to livestream them.

Cullors, co-author of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, will speak at 7:30 pm in Langford Auditorium. The artist and activist, a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, earned a degree in religion and philosophy from UCLA. She is the founder of Dignity and Power Now/Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails.

Cullors was the first to use the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African American teenager Trayvon Martin.

“This symposium represents the spirit of collaboration and the importance that we, as a university, place on open and mutual conversations about the important issues of our day.,” said Emilie Townes, dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society. “The importance of our addressing racial justice as a university and as a nation is as important today as it has ever been in the life of this country.” Townes also directs the Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative.

Four schools that are co-sponsoring the day-long symposium, Divinity, Peabody, Graduate School, and Law, will each host a panel discussion that focuses on specific aspects of King’s legacy in the context of current issues. The other symposium sponsors are the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Office for Inclusive Excellence. Panels will be held in Flynn Auditorium at Vanderbilt Law School.

In addition, Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for inclusion and diversity at Virginia Tech, will be the luncheon keynote speaker in Flynn Auditorium. She is a ‘Double ‘Dore,’ having earned both her law degree (1993) and a doctorate in sociology (1997) at Vanderbilt.

Her research interests include critical race studies, black feminism, and critical race feminism, with a particular focus on issues of trans-disciplinary analysis of diversity issues in higher education. She will sign copies of her most recent book, A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race Class, and Gender in America, at the luncheon.

The Divinity School panel, which leads off the symposium from 9:15 am to 10:15 am, features Eddie Glaude, Princeton University; Anthea Butler, University of Pennsylvania; Eboni Marshall Turman, Yale University; and Vicki Crawford, Morehouse College. The panelists will strive to motivate participants to envision new strategies for eradicating racial injustice as illuminated by King.

The Law School panel, scheduled from 10:30 to 11:30 am, is composed of Sameer Ashar, UCLA School of Law; Rocío Alejandra Avila, National Domestic Workers Alliance; Llezlie Green Coleman, American University Washington College of Law; and J.J. Rosenbaum, Global Labor Justice.

“We are delighted to host and co-sponsor this multidisciplinary symposium, and I look forward to a stimulating law panel discussion featuring experts in immigration, labor migration, employment law and race theory,” said Chris Guthrie, Dean and John Wade-Kent-Syverud Professor of Law.

Peabody College’s panel, from 1:45 pm to 2:45 pm, features Ebony O. McGee, associate professor of education, diversity and STEM education; Donna Y. Ford, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair and professor of special education, and Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, a young-adult novel about a talented young black man’s encounter with racism, policing, and the justice system. Nicole M. Joseph, assistant professor of mathematics education, will moderate the panel, which will focus on the continuing struggle to achieve racial justice in education.

“Peabody College has long been committed to creating educational opportunity for all people, and we are excited to offer this panel and to co-sponsor this symposium,” said Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Peabody.

The Graduate School’s panel, from 3-4 pm, includes feature Vanderbilt’s Gilman Whiting, associate professor of African American and Diaspora studies, and Frank Dobson, associate dean of students; and Camille Burge, Villanova University. Race and education will be among their topics.

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