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King's dream lives on at 24th U-M symposium

See a list of MLK Symposium events >

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) co-anchor Gwen Ifill, anti-racist new media communicator Carmen VanKerckhove and environmental justice advocate Vernice Miller-Travis are among key presenters at the 24th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium opening in January.

The theme, chosen by the 40-member MLK Symposium Planning Committee, is "I am, was and always will be a catalyst for change," spoken by Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, and to run for president in 1972.

"We wanted to look at something that helped people think of being a change agent now," says Theda Gibbs, assistant director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI) and coordinator for the MLK Symposium.

"We also want people to think about what they will continue to do to be a change agent in the future, especially students trying to create a legacy of positive change," Gibbs says. She adds that the range of speakers and programs is meant to draw both young and old to the MLK Symposium, one of the earliest established ongoing Martin Luther King Jr.-celebratory events in the country.

The MLK Symposium Planning Committee continues to be impressed with the ongoing commitment of the campus community to recognizing and keeping King's principles, says John Matlock, associate vice provost, Office of the Provost, and executive director, OAMI.

"It's really important that we take the opportunity to reflect on the contributions of Dr. King and others who pushed for social justice and equality," Matlock says. "We still have much more to do as a nation. Many of these individuals including Dr. King gave their lives for the cause, and it's essential that we remain committed to moving forward."

Gwen Ifill

Ifill will deliver the Keynote Memorial Lecture at 10 a.m. Jan. 18 at Hill Auditorium. She is managing editor of PBS' "Washington Week in Review," co-anchor of the "PBS Newshour" and author of the best-selling book "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama."

Her appearance is sponsored by the MLK Planning Committee and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. "We are really excited about the collaboration," Matlock says.

The daughter of a minister and a homemaker, Ifill's high school years were spent in Buffalo, N.Y., where the family lived in federally subsidized housing. Her interest in journalism is rooted in her parents' insistence that their children watch the national news on TV. After earning a degree from Simmons College in 1977, she began working as a reporter, eventually joining the Washington Post, the New York Times and NBC News. In 1999 she became the first African American to host a prominent political talk show on national television, PBS' "Washington Week."

Ifill, who moderated the 2008 vice presidential debate, also has received eight honorary degrees. She serves on the board of Harvard University's Institute of Politics and the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Carmen VanKerckhove

VanKerckhove will present the Symposium Opening Lecture at 5 p.m. Jan. 12 in the Michigan League Vandenberg Room. She is co-founder and president of New Demographic, a consulting firm that helps campuses and organizations overcome "diversity fatigue" by facilitating relaxed, authentic, and productive conversations about race and racism.

She hosts "Addicted to Race," a podcast about America's obsession with race, and edits a network of blogs. They include "Racialicious," about the intersection of race and pop culture; "Anti-Racist Parent"; and "Race in the Workplace."

Her perspectives on race and racism have been featured in Newsweek, USA Today and The New York Times, among other prominent publications. She has appeared on TV and radio news programs including "MSNBC Live" and National Public Radio's "News & Notes." Her appearance is sponsored by the MLK Symposium Planning Committee.

Vernice Miller-Travis

Miller-Travis, vice chair of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities and co-founder of West Harlem Environmental Action, will present the opening School of Natural Resources Dean's Speaker Series Lecture at 5 p.m. Jan. 19 in the Michigan League Vandenberg Room.

An urban planner and a graduate of Columbia University, she has written numerous articles and chapters on race and land use, environmental justice, brownfield redevelopment and hazardous waste policy, sustainable community development, historic preservation, and neighborhood revitalization.

Miller-Travis has been the key convener of an effort to bring the environmental justice constituency into dialogue with the Obama administration, and was invited to the White House to watch the president sign two memoranda of understanding on raising automobile fuel efficiency standards. She also is co-chair of the Working Group on School Air Monitoring to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Her appearance is sponsored by the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the MLK Symposium Planning Committee.

For more information, contact Gibbs at or 936-1055.

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