JACKSON TWP. As part of the 28th season of the Kent State University Stark Featured Speakers Series the university presented an evening with Mary Francis Berry, Ph.D.
The 81-year-old Berry, as an activist, has been highly respected and visible for the cause of civil rights, gender equality and social justice.
Serving as a former chairperson of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission she addressed civil rights and liberties for all Americans throughout the presidential terms of four presidents. In her latest book, "History Teaches us to Resist," Berry writes about experiences during progressive movements that have succeeded during challenging times throughout the last 50 years.
For Berry, the most difficult part of writing her book was the section on the Vietnam war. She told the story about her wanting to go to Vietnam while she was a student attending the University of Michigan. She spoke about what it took for her to get there. She found the only way she could go was as a reporter of a newspaper with 150,000 subscribers. She went to the paper on campus, the Michigan Daily and other papers in Ann Arbor and the surrounding areas, until she had enough letters from editors to add up to 150,000 subscribers. They allowed her to go to Vietnam and assigned her to a sergeant and told her she could go anywhere she wanted.
She also told stories from her book about a variety of presidents, but the highlight of her career was when she was in South Africa the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison and she was able to spend time with him.
Topics Berry spoke about were the opiate crisis, with the legalization of marijuana states are not releasing those in prison for marijuana arrests, global warming and voter fraud to name a few. She said that elections are about faces in high places instead of fixing the policy problems.
She is the author of 12 books including, "My Face Is Black Is True," "Black Resistance White Law," "Power in Words," "Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich" and "WHY Era Failed."
Through the Google Hangout Program, Berry spoke to students from Jackson, Louisville and GlenOak high schools. During that time and the program in the evening she spoke to students and told them if they want to see change to organize and ask for change and to be polite when doing so. “Movements do work,” she said. She said we have come a long way, but she continues as an activist because problems with racism, gender inequality and rights of people being denied.
Berry has been a Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania since 1987. She was the first woman selected to head a major research university, the University of Colorado. She was one of the recipients of the Nelson Mandela Award, awarded to her by the South African Government for organizing the Free South African Movement. She also served in the position for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare as she worked to improve access and quality education in our schools. To honor her work, Berry has received 35 honorary doctoral degrees and many awards including the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins Award, the Rosa Parks Award of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Ebony Magazine Black Achievement Award.
She said that the answer to social problems, injustice and grievances is to organize.
The next program for the speaker’s series will be the world-famous novelist, Nicholas Sparks. The program will be at 7:30 p.m., April 17. The program is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Tickets will become available March 18 at 7:30 a.m. in the Main hall Information Desk. Business hours are Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a first come first served basis.
For more information on the speaker’s series, visit https://www.kent.edu/stark/featured-speakers-series.