Harvard Law professor, Obama advisor Charles J. Ogletree to speak at URI, Feb. 5

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Obama and Ogletree
Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard law professor and an advisor to President Barack Obama shown here with the president.

KINGSTON, R.I., Jan 18, 2013 – When Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree comes to the University of Rhode Island next month, he’ll do more than talk about race relations in America today.

He’ll help kick off Black History Month, a series of events on campus during February to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to the nation and the world.

The theme this year is “Still the Seventh Son?” The question is posed by writer W.E.B. Du Bois in his classic work, The Souls of Black Folk, to describe metaphorically how African Americans were treated as a despised or disinherited stepson, or, in Du Bois’ words, as the “seventh son.”

“Du Bois wondered then, in the early 1900s, even with the changes and strides toward equality, if African Americans were still an underclass,” says Vanessa Quainoo, director of the Africana Studies Program, a co-sponsor. “Several generations later, with an African American president and significant progress, America is still suffering the effects of racial, class, and ethnic divides. Consequently, are African Americans the ‘seventh son’?”

One of the country’s leading scholars on civil rights, Ogletree will explore that topic and more during an hour-long talk at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 in the Memorial Union Ballroom. Free and open to the public, the talk is called “Post-Racial America in the Age of Obama.”

A signing of his latest book, The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class and Crime in America, will follow. The book chronicles the mistaken arrest of Gates, a Harvard University professor, for breaking into his own house in Cambridge, Mass., in 2009.

URI is honored to host Ogletree. His talk inaugurates the “Marlen Bodden Lecture Series in Africana Studies,” which brings authorities to campus to discuss the African diaspora. Bodden, who created the lecture series with an endowed gift, is a human rights lawyer and an author.

“We are looking forward to what I believe will be a thought provoking, meaningful evening that will give respect to and underscore the dignity of African American heritage,” says Quainoo. “The campus-wide observance is designed to engage the University in the significance and purpose of Black History Month. The events are for everyone.”

A senior advisor to President Barack Obama, Ogletree’s relationship to the president and Michelle Obama dates back nearly three decades. He taught the Obamas – at separate times – when they were students at Harvard Law School. He is also scheduled to teach a course about Obama at the law school this spring.

While Ogletree’s lecture is a highlight, it is one of many Black History Month events scheduled for February to celebrate the contributions of African Americans, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here are some of the other campus events:

  • Gerard J. Holder, URI’s deputy Title IX coordinator and assistant director of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity, will talk about “Hidden Bias: An Impact on Social Justice, Values, and Leadership,” from noon to 1 p.m. Jan. 31 in the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. “Whether we are measuring in terms of dollars or other resources, the most expensive diversity crises tend to arise because of an insidious phenomenon called hidden bias,” says Holder. “This kind of bias in the subconscious mind allows well-meaning people to make catastrophic errors that adversely affect their organizations, and their own careers, for years or decades.”
  • A video and discussion about Dr. King from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Multicultural Center, Room 005. This is a chance to learn more about Dr. King’s life. The video is adapted from a book about the civil rights activist by Robert Jakoubek.
  • “Leadership and You: How to Make the Most of Your Inner Dr. King!” from 5 to 6 p.m. Feb. 4 in the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. This workshop will allow participants to examine their own leadership strengths.
  • “Unity Luncheon” from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 6 in the Memorial Union Ballroom. Participants will share food and music, as they reflect on Dr. King’s life. URI’s Office of the Chaplains will present the 10th annual Peacemaker Award honoring a student, student organization, or member of the University’s academic community with a commitment to peace and nonviolence. To attend the luncheon, please RSVP to maileekue@uri.edu. Seating is limited. The luncheon is free.
  • Hunger Banquet, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 6, Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. Students will participate in an Oxfam Hunger Banquet, which allows guests to experience how policy decisions affect others in the world.
  • “Using Comedy to Create Cross Cultural Dialogue” from 5 to 6 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. Jewish-American comic Scott Blakeman and Palestinian-American comic Dean Obeidallah will talk about how they use comedy to create dialogue and foster understanding among people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. The event is co-sponsored by URI Hillel.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 9 starting at the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. The event honors Dr. King’s commitment to public service. Students will have the opportunity to volunteer on projects, on and off campus. The event is co-sponsored by the School of Education, Kappa Delta Pi, and URI fraternities and sororities.
  • Gitahi Gititi will read his poems at 4 p.m. Feb. 11 in Lippitt Hall, 4th floor auditorium. A native of Kenya, Gititi is a professor of English, Film and Media Studies, African, and African American Studies in the Africana Studies Program. He is a poet, short fiction writer, and multilingual translator. His scholarly and creative work has appeared in numerous literary journals and publications.
  • Naomi R. Thompson, J.D., the University’s chief diversity officer and associate vice president of Community, Equity and Diversity, will talk about campus efforts to promote fair treatment, diversify the campus demographic composition, broaden and deepen its curricular offerings, and cultivate a welcoming and inclusive campus culture and community where members are respected and valued. The “brown bag” discussion, called “A Voice for the Students: Understanding Community, Equity, and Diversity,” is from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 14 in the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101.
  • Guitarist and songwriter David E. Allen will perform black American spirituals at 6 p.m. Feb. 24 in the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. Allen, a graduate of Brown University and Washington University in St. Louis, has performed throughout New England and the West Coast, opening for Earth, Wind & Fire, Boney James, Tower of Power, Kirk Franklin, and Stephen Curtis Chapman. Allen recently released his debut solo album, “Life Along The Way,” which features his well-honed gifts as a guitarist and composer. Allen has also written songs with his sister, jazz recording artist Aimee Allen, on her latest CD releases, Winter & Mays and l’inexplicable.
  • Desne Crossley, associate director of major gifts at Harvard Law School, will talk about racial identity and education at 4 p.m. Feb. 25 in Lippitt Hall, 4th floor auditorium. The talk is called “Race, History and Education: Stand Up, Take a Seat, and Own Your Spot.” Crossley is a development officer with more than 25 years experience in major gifts and corporate and foundation relations work. Her poem “Gone Creativity,” is published in Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing from Rising Generations, edited by Alexander Levering Kern. She often speaks to students about navigating higher education while remaining true to oneself and family. Participation from the audience is encouraged.
  • Judah-Micah Lamar, a doctoral fellow in the English department, will present a reading of the antagonist in Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Multicultural Center, Hardge Forum, Room 101. “This discussion will seek to open dialogue about the ways in which black men are portrayed by black women authors in literature, and how society at large misreads black men through fragmented lenses as ‘damaged goods,'” says Lamar.
  • Film Series: An African American film will be shown at 3 p.m. every Wednesday during February at Lippitt Hall, Room 102. The films include Africa, Straight Up, Traces of the Trade, and Eyes on the Prize.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Mailee Kue, assistant director of the Multicultural Center, at 401-874-5829, maileekue@uri.edu or Lauren Bauer in the Africana Studies Program at 401-874-2536.