Eyes on the Prize: Reclaiming Our Civil Rights Heritage

EyesOnPrizePic2Eyes on the Prize, the 14-hour documentary about the U.S. Civil Right movement, ought to be required viewing for every American.  The series ran on PBS and on BBC2 in England for two seasons—Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1964 running from late January to late February 1987, and season two Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965-1985 running from mid-January to early March 1990.  The series has recently been celebrated by the documentary Eyes on the Prize: Then and Now, which chronicles the making of the series and how it continues to inspire a new generation still battling for Civil Rights.

From January 22-25, 1990, just as season two was getting underway, we held a conference at North Central College titled Eyes on the Prize: Reclaiming Our Civil Rights Heritage.   It’s director was then college chaplain Rev. Barbara R. Isaacs, supported by a large number of students, faculty and staff, including me as coordinator of what we then called the Visiting Lecturer Committee. Below is the brochure I designed for this conference.

The featured speakers were Juan Williams, who had written the companion volume for the PBS series, and two people who had played instrumental parts in the Mississippi struggle for Civil Rights all through the 1960′s.

The first was Shirley Harrington Watson, who later became a program administrator at the USDA, but in 1964 was one of the principals of a march that led to the detention of 1000 protesting students at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Mississippi.  Her involvement ran even deeper and more personally.  She was a young person closely allied to the leader of Mississippi’s Civil Rights struggle, Medgar Evers.   “I felt, as a child, that I was responsible for his death,” Watson once said, “because I had asked him to get us some t-shirts [the] night [he was assassinated] and those t-shirts were actually under his arm.  The security people left him and he drove home by himself.  [His security] and my uncle would take turns going behind him with guns to make sure he got in and out safely, but that time he chose to go by himself…Really, it takes a lot to talk about it still.  I’m still a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer from the undeclared war on blacks in Mississippi.”

The other main speaker was Rev. Ed King, who in 1964 was the chaplain at historic Tougaloo College, a largely Black school.  He constantly stood with the Black community, thereby gaining the reputation as one of the few whites that community really trusted. He tells the story that when the Civil Rights workers Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney disappeared a black cafeteria worker at the college confided to him that a respected white woman in Philadelphia told her their bodies had been buried under a newly built dam but she didn’t know where. The white woman, fearing for her life, had sworn the cafeteria worker to secrecy. King brought the information to the FBI but they brushed him off until a few days later when the bodies were indeed found under a new dam.

The conference included a tour of significant Civil Rights sites in Chicago and two panels focusing on the profound impact and participation of students in Civil Rights both in the 1960′s and what was then the present and near-future days, the 1990′s.

The closing panel on Civil Rights in Chicago 1960′s to 1990′s indeed brought a stellar group together, including Congressman Bobbie Rush (then an Alderman), Dr. Conrad Worril, Mr. James Anyika, Dr. John Porter, Dr. Robert Starks, and Mr. Byron Robertson, then a recent North Central College graduate who had received the Outstanding Senior Man award.

Now in the midst of a string of extraordinary events, from Trayvon Martin to Ferguson and Baltimore and Charleston, to Laquan McDonald in Chicago, etc. etc. etc., we also glimpse the future of Civil Rights in #blacklivesmatter and what may be a growing acknowledgment of the deep, pernicious presence of racism in our society.  There’s some dim hope that more and more Americans may be realizing that our Civil Rights heritage continues to need reclaiming every day.  The opening paragraph of the brochure below remains as pertinent today as in 1990:  “Led principally by Black Americans, with visible support from committed Whites, Hispanics, Asians, and other peoples from around the world, the Civil Rights Movement became one of the greatest struggles for human liberty and dignity in history. Now amid persistent, even growing racial and ethnic tensions, it becomes more important than ever to reclaim the heritage of this movement for today.  To realize what price was paid, to remember how people found common ground in the shared struggle for human rights, may help us renew our commitment to peace and equality, and realize anew the truth that no person is truly free until all persons are free.”

 Go to the Lead Post on significant conferences and presentations at North Central College.

Eyes on Prize conference2


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Emmanuel House in “Top 100″


EMMANUEL HOUSE has been named one of the Top 100 social enterprises/non-profits in the world by Classy, the innovative funding platform that has helped raise hundreds of millions for social change organizations.  Congratulations to Rick & Desiree Guzman, who founded Emmanuel House almost 10 years ago as a living memorial to Bryan Emmanuel Guzman, to our Executive Director Hayley Meksi, and to all our friends, supporters, and network partners.

Classy’s three day “Collaborative” conference in Boston this June is billed as “The Biggest Event in Social Innovation.”  It culminates with the awards ceremony, where a winner will be announced in each of Classy’s categories of social service and change.  Go here to see the Top 100 and be inspired by what each one does.  Emmanuel House is proud to be in this company.

Classy-EH1300 organizations operating in 118 countries applied for these prestigious awards.  The webpage introducing the Top 100 says: “The Classy Awards exist to put a spotlight on the most remarkable change makers of our generation. The Finalists recognized this year are addressing the incredibly complex and equally severe problems we face today. Their efforts span global poverty and hunger, disease, education, climate change, disaster response and preparedness, and health care accessibility.

“Selected from 1,300 nonprofit and social enterprise programs during an extensive year-long research and vetting process, this year’s Finalists represent the brightest minds and boldest leaders that are solving problems through innovation. We are honored to introduce the 100 most innovative nonprofits and social enterprises, the Classy Awards Finalists.”

Classy itself was named this year as one of the Top 10  Most Innovative Companies in Social Good by the influential magazine Fast Company.   This link gives you other links to help you follow Classy’s story, from its start as a San Diego pub crawl to a platform which now includes as clients the U.N., Oxfam America, National Geographic, the Malala Fund, and so many of the most prominent social change organizations in the world.  Among the attendees at this year’s Classy Collaborative Conference will be:

  • Erica Kochi, Senior Advisor to UNICEF Executive Director on Innovation, and Co-Founder, UNICEF Innovation, UNICEF
  • Gargee Ghosh, Director, Development Policy & Finance, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Dr. Cheryl Dorsey, President, Echoing Green
  • Kate Brandt, Lead for Sustainability, Google… and many more you can read about Here.

We have to say again that Emmanuel House is so honored to be included in the company of this year’s Top 100 and all of Classy’s clients.  Emmanuel House has come a long way and has a vision for a future filled with even more hope for more people.


 Go to the Emmanuel House main page on this site, which contains links to the Emmanuel House website where you can donate, volunteer, and invest.

 Go to the Social Change main page where we highlight other organizations and initiatives trying to make a difference.

 See a sample of news coverage for the Classy Awards.

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Cultural Events at North Central College: A Personal History

EyesOnPrize2This is the LEAD POST in a series on major conferences I helped direct at my college as the head of, first, The Visiting Lecturer Committee, which then grew to become the Cultural Events Committee.  I’m posting these now partly as inspiration and starter ideas for CODE —The Coalition on Diversity in Education, a new social change group I have helped lead— as it contemplates a major conference during the 2016-17 college year.

The tagline for this website is “Arts, Diversity, Social Change…Faith,” and as I look back many years, decades before I began this site, it’s amazing to see how this tagline captures what has so long directed my energies.  Most of the major conferences were, indeed, about the arts, about diversity, about social change, and also deeply about faith.  The picture to the left is of the brochure for one of the conferences I remember most: Eyes on the Prize—Reclaiming Our Civil Rights Heritage. See the LIST BELOW for a short post on each conference.  Eyes on the Prize is #1 on the list.

When I took over the Visiting Lecturer Committee in the mid-80′s I began to grow the program from a $4000 budget to a $30,000 one by the mid-90′s, and from one major event a term to the many we now have.  Some of this growth came from recognizing that while we perhaps had only one major “lecture” a term, there were other “events,” ones in the arts especially, which we should draw together and list in one place.  Thus, Visiting Lecturer became Cultural Events.

Dot 1EYES ON THE PRIZE: Reclaiming Our Civil Rights Heritage.  Featuring Juan Williams, author of the companion volume to the great PBS series Eyes on the Prize, plus Shirley Harrington Watson and Rev. Ed King, two persons deeply involved in the momentous Freedom Summers which began in 1964.

Dot 1CHRISTIANITY AND THE HOLOCAUST.  The role of the Christian Church was so often a shameful one—as it was during the Civil Rights Movement—but there were also “Righteous Christians” who aided Jews during this darkest of times.

Dot 1CONTINUING ENCOUNTERS: NATIVE AMERICANS IN 1992.  Featuring then-president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, LaDonna Harris, Walter Echo-Hawk, senior attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, and artist, writer, educator Ramson Lomatewama.

Dot 1IMAGE & THE FEMININE SELF.  Featuring Carol Gilligan, author of the groundbreaking In Another Voice, and Stephanie Coontz, who also authored several groundbreaking books focused on women and on family, including The Way We Never Were.

Dot 1SOUTH AFRICA.  Featuring Colin Jones, dean of the Capetown Cathedral and one of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s closest allies, and Aubrey Dwyer, counselor of the permanent mission of South Africa to the U.N.

Dot 1THINKING GLOBALLY, ACTING LOCALLY.  A conference in support of the goals of Earth Day, 1991.

Dot 1RACE, CLASS, AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT.  Featuring the eminent urban scholar Joe Feagin and leading urban thinkers and planners for the city of Chicago.

Dot 1FROM COMMUNISM TO CAPITALISM?  About Eastern Europe in Transition.

Dot 1TRUTH & CONSEQUENCES.  Talks and discussions on math and cultural change, and the crisis in American math-science literacy.

Dot 1INSIDE DANCE: Choreographers Showcase.  Featuring workshops and a dance concert from the Joseph Holmes Company and Gus Geordano Chicago Jazz Dance.



  Julian Bond

 Imamu Amiri Baraka

 Dick Gregory

 Maya Angelou

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