Sponsored by the Office of the President
Reverend Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., entrepreneur, global business leader, educator, chemist, civil rights leader, NAACP Life Member, syndicated columnist, theologian, and author is currently the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA): The Black Press of America. Dr. Chavis serves on the Board of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). Dr. Chavis is also the former President and Co-Founder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), the world’s largest coalition of hip-hop artists and recording industry executives.
A native of Oxford, North Carolina, Dr. Chavis received the Bachelor of Arts, BA, in Chemistry from University of North Carolina. He even earned his Masters of Divinity, M.Div., magna cum laude, from Duke University while serving an unjust 34-year prison sentence as a member of the Wilmington 10, who Amnesty International declared political prisoners, a case that garnered international attention and was pardoned 40 years later. He also received the Doctor of Ministry, D. Min, from Howard University and completed course requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy, Ph.D., in systematic theology, from Union Theological Seminary. Dr. Chavis is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.
Dr. Chavis began his career in 1963, as a statewide youth coordinator in NC for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1993 and 1994, Dr. Chavis served as the Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and remains an active supporter of the NAACP. In 1995, Dr. Chavis was the National Director and organizer of the Million Man March. From 1995 to 1997, Chavis was the Executive Director and CEO of the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS). The 2010 theatrical release of the full-length movie Blood Done Sign My Name distributed by Paladin, directed by Jeb Stuart, starring Ricky Schroder, Nate Parker, and Lela Rochon depicts a true story from Dr. Chavis’ early days in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960’s and 1970’s in his hometown of Oxford, NC.
Dr. Chavis has authored books and other publications including: An American Political Prisoner Appeals for Human Rights, Psalms from Prison, Toxic Waste and Race in the United States of America: A National Report on the Racial and Socioeconomic Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste Sites, and FUSION: Bridging the Gap between Civil Rights and Hip-Hop with MC Lyte (2015). His areas of expertise include corporate diversity and inclusion, human rights, climate change, voting rights, bridging the gap between civil rights and hip-hop, and criminal justice reform.
Etan Thomas is more than an athlete, he has redefined himself as “The Activist Athlete.” Thomas defies the stereotype of the apolitical athlete, planting his roots in his formidable literary career, passion for mentoring, and civic engagement.
Born in Harlem, New York and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Thomas’ childhood was surrounded by books on the civil rights movement, politics, and the 1960s. He was greatly influenced by his mother, Deborah Thomas, a schoolteacher, who instilled in her two sons to think critically and use their platform to make a difference. Etan Thomas has made his mark far beyond the boundaries of his 11 years in the NBA.
His latest work, We Matter: Athletes and Activism, was released in 2018. Inside the book, the voices of athletes, activists, media personalities, scholars, and the family of victims of police brutality share their personal experiences. Book Authority listed We Matter as one of the top ten best activism books of all time. It tied for best non-fiction for 2018, by the African-American Literary Awards (AALAS).
Never afraid to voice his opinions, Etan was honored for social justice advocacy, as the recipient of the 2010 National Basketball Players Association Community Contribution Award, as well as the 2009 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation, Inc. Legacy Award. Etan jumps at the opportunity to support civic engagement, especially for under-resourced populations.
Currently, he writes for The Guardian. He has previously written for The Washington Post, Huffington Post, CNN, ESPN, Hoopshype.com and slamonline. He can be seen frequently on MSNBC as a special correspondent for “Hot Topics.” He continues to be invited on syndicated radio and co-hosts a weekly local radio show on WPFW 89.3FM, The Collision, where sports and politics collide.
Co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Women and Gender Studies Program
Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, Ph.D., is the author of the short story collection, Blue Talk and Love (2015). In her fiction, she explores the intellectual, emotional, and bodily lives of young black women, through voice, music, and hip-hop inflected magical realist techniques. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Writing, American Fiction: Best New Stories by Emerging Writers, Prairie Schooner, Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize Stories, BLOOM: Queer Fiction, Art, Poetry and More, TriQuarterly, Feminist Studies, All About Skin: Short Stories by Award-Winning Women Writers of Color, Baobab: South African Journal of New Writing and many others. She is the winner of the Charles Johnson Fiction Award, the James Baldwin Memorial Playwriting Award, and fellowships, scholarships and residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Yaddo Colony, the Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat, and the Center for Fiction in New York City, where she received a 2011 Emerging Writers Fellowship.
Mecca is Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at UMass Amherst. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Temple University, and a B.A. in Afro-American Studies from Smith College. A proud native of Harlem, NY, her critical and scholarly work on sexuality, identity, and poetics in contemporary African Diaspora culture has appeared in publications including Palimpsest: Journal of Women, Gender and the Black International, Jacket2, Public Books, GLQ: Lesbian and Gay Studies Quarterly, From Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the The Help: Critical Perspectives on White-Authored Narratives of Black Life, Ebony.com, Zora Magazine, TheRoot.com, Ms. Magazine online, and The Feminist Wire, where she serves as Associate Editor for Arts & Culture.
Ayesha Noor is extraordinarily active in the Fredericksburg community and has done an immense amount of work on interfaith relations, women’s leadership, and runs her own small business. She has two master’s degrees in international economics and serves as the Director of Interfaith Relations at a local mosque.
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Student Association/Hillel
Passover is the Jewish celebratory feast that honors the emancipation of Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Traditionally, Jewish families gather on the first few nights of Passover for dinner and the Seder ritual, in which a family or community retells the story of the liberation.