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Continuing on the Road to Racial Justice

 

Newman 2When Dr. Ronald Pitner began planning the I. DeQuincey Newman Lecture last fall, he immediately thought of USC’s commemoration of its desegregation. “The lecture is a way of bringing people together to hear about social justice issues in the form of research,” he said. “I thought this was a way for the College of Social Work to get involved with the commemoration of desegregation and to continue the dialogue that began last fall.”

This year’s lecture, which was held on March 27 at the Spigner House, featured Dr. Henrie Monteith Treadwell, one of the first African-American students admitted to USC 50 years ago in 1963. Since this groundbreaking step, Dr. Treadwell has continued to forge a path toward racial and economic justice, especially focusing on health disparities within communities of color. She is the founding director of Community Voices: Healthcare for the Underserved and a research professor of community health and preventive medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine. Dr. Treadwell is also author of Beyond Stereotypes in Black and White: How Everyday Leaders Can Build Healthier Opportunities for African American Boys and Men.

According to Dr. Pitner, commemorating desegregation is important in order to keep history from repeating itself, but doing so is also a key opportunity to recognize the injustices that remain. “Fifty years was not long ago, so clearly significant strides have been made,” he said. “But we need to keep thinking about what strides still need to be made.” Thus, Dr. Treadwell’s lecture, “Passing the Torch: Civil Rights Agenda for the 21st Century,” directed attendees to look toward continuing to address racial injustices and inequalities in South Carolina and beyond. The lecture was opened by Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman, nephew of the Civil Rights leader and activist Reverend I. DeQuincey Newman, after whom the I. DeQuincey Newman Institute for Peace and Social Justice is named. The Newman Institute seeks to promote social justice through interdisciplinary education, consultation, and research. Through lectures, film screenings, and social media, the Newman Institute’s programs engage individuals in an ongoing conversation about social issues and how to address them. Dr. Pitner, the director of the Newman Institute, explained that the Newman Lecture is a space for sharing research on social justice and opening dialogue among scholars, students, and the community beyond USC.

“I think that social justice is something that’s never achieved. There are always injustices,” Dr. Pitner said. Yet, for him, the ongoing struggles that individuals and groups face highlight the importance of social justice research as a key part of making change happen. “People study issues like this because they’re very complex,” he said. “Those dynamics don’t change easily, and they require research.”

Dr. Pitner is not alone in wanting to carry on and make known the legacies of important Civil Rights leaders. Dr. Sadye Logan, an emeritus faculty member of the College of Social Work, has written The Spirit of an Activist: The Life and Times of I. DeQuincey Newman, which chronicles Newman’s important contributions in South Carolina and beyond. (The biography was published by USC Press in April 2014.) The I. DeQuincey Newman Institute was also featured at Tapp’s Arts Center in downtown Columbia, with a window display featuring the work and legacy of Civil Rights leader I. DeQuincey Newman.

As USC celebrates the end of its segregation, Dr. Pitner said that events like the Newman Lecture can help educate the community about the changes that still need to be made. “There’s plenty of work for people who do social justice research—and will be for many, many years,” he said. “Social justice is not something we’ll ever achieve, but we’ll always be constantly striving for it.”

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