A Forum for Inspiration

February 20, 2014 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

One of the benefits of working at a huge, world-class university is being surrounded by smart, fascinating people who do important work. Another is how a place like Penn State draws smart, fascinating people from elsewhere to share their knowledge and experience—even if it’s just for an hour over lunch.

Ten or 12 times each academic year, the Penn State Forum Speaker Series does just that. I try to make a few of these each year, and since last fall, I’ve been fortunate to see three compelling speakers. What Pedro Noguera, Majora Carter, and Bob Zellner had in common was the ability to turn personal experience and insight into compelling stories; they also shared a first-person appreciation for the challenges faced by black Americans. Zellner, whose appearance was timed with the university’s celebration of Black History Month, might have been the most compelling of all.

Bob Zellner at the Penn State Forum Speaker Series. Courtesy of The Daily Collegian.

Bob Zellner at the Penn State Forum. Courtesy of The Daily Collegian.

Zellner is a long-time civil rights activist and author of the memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, which is set to be made into a Spike Lee film. A white man from the Deep South (his father and grandfather were Klansmen), Zellner was a college student when he interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks for—imagine this—a sociology class; he says Parks told him, “When you see something wrong, you have to do something. You can’t just study it forever.” Zellner took that advice, and in subsequent years, he was arrested, beaten, and—in one instance—nearly lynched for his efforts. In his Forum appearance, Zellner mixed humor with harrowing anecdotes, inspiring the packed house with those decades-old stories and challenging us with reminders that, from environmental issues to class inequality, social justice in all its forms is still very much a cause worth fighting for.

Last fall, Pedro Noguera and Majora Carter offered very different but related perspectives on social justice. Noguera, a professor at NYU, spoke about the education inequality at the root of longer-term economic and class divisions in American society—and how that inequality erodes the very foundation of democracy. Carter, meanwhile, specializes in urban revitalization, a cause close to the heart of the Bronx, N.Y. native. And while she’s not a Nittany Lion, she now boasts a very cool Penn State connection: She’s the host of the recently produced Penn State Public Media documentary Water Blues, Green Solutions.

Regardless of their own college connections, it’s nice to be able to count people like these as Penn Staters, if only for a day.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

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Entry filed under: University Park. Tags: , , , , , , .

The Penn Stater Daily — Feb. 20, 2014 The Penn Stater Daily — Feb. 21, 2014

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