University to host 24th annual Civil Rights Conference

The 24th annual University of Tennessee at Martin Civil Rights Conference will take place throughout the month of February, featuring noted guest speakers and activities that help to promote and encourage dialogue and understanding regarding issues relating to civil rights, equality and justice.

All of the Civil Rights Conference events are admission-free and open to the public.

The 2024 Civil Rights Conference theme is “Fact Over Fiction: The Truth is Marching On.”

Henri Giles, a lecturer in the Department of Mass Media and Strategic Communication, said UT Martin first held its Civil Rights Conference in 2001.

“It’s an opportunity to bring in different people from across the country who have either worked in civil rights or continue to work for the betterment and equity of all Americans,” she said. “In the past, this has been an opportunity to bring voices to UT Martin to speak about the civil rights issues that have continued in this country.”

Previous Civil Rights Conferences at UT Martin have brought in pioneers in the area of civil rights from the 1950s and 1960s. Giles said this year’s guest speakers will speak toward sorting out the truth in the information and possible disinformation provided through media and social media.

This year’s guest speakers include:

Carmarry “Pep-C” Hall, 6 p.m., Feb. 6. Hall is a breakdancer who will take part in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris in that event. Her first name is pronounced “car-MAH-ree,” although she goes by “Pep-C.”

“This is the first year that breakdancing will be included in the Olympics as a competitive sport,” Giles said. “Also, we are just finishing up the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

“When she comes to UT Martin on Feb. 6, she will have a short presentation of some of her moves.”

Hall will discuss the history of breadancing and hip-hop’s influence on American culture.

Roland S. Martin, 6 p.m., Feb. 13. Martin is an award-winning journalist and multimedia host. He has appeared on CNN as well as other cable and network stations. Martin was the National Association of Black Journalists 2013 Journalist of the Year.

“Roland has a long history of being a journalist and being someone who tells it like it is,” Giles said. “He pulls no punches. He has his finger on the pulse of what is happening in this country and he speaks very candidly about that.”

Dr. Eddie Glaude, 6 p.m., Feb. 20. Glaude is an author, scholar and political analyst. His last name is pronounced to rhyme with “cloud,” and he has written several books, mostly in the area of current affairs. He is a James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University.

“He is seen frequently on different news channels as a panelist who will provide commentary on a number of different political topics,” Giles said. “He will join us to break down some of what we’ve seen in the news every day.”

Each speaker’s program will be held in Watkins Auditorium in the Boling University Center.

Giles said that UT Martin’s Civil Rights Conference program is unique to the West Tennessee campus among universities nationwide.

“I’ve been told that UT Martin is one of only two institutions that hold civil rights conferences,” she said. “We are the only university in the country that holds a civil rights conference for the entire month of February, so I think that is a pretty extraordinary distinction for us.

“There are a number of events that speak to some of the issues that are going on. Just so people won’t think this is just a heavy, academic conference, we have all sorts of events that people can come to where they can learn and, hopefully, be inspired by what they see and what they hear.”

Events to be held during this year’s Civil Rights Conference – all to be held in the Boling University Center unless otherwise noted – include:

• STEM School of Chattanooga art exhibition, Feb. 1-29, Boling University Center lobby.

• Student and professional networking event, Feb. 8, Boling University Center Room 230.

• Student art exhibition, Welcome Center Hallway, presented by the Department of Visual and Theatre Arts.

• Montgomery Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) presentation and art exhibit awards, 6 p.m., Feb. 15, Watkins Auditorium. Presentation sponsored by the Weakley County Reconciliation Project. The art exhibit and awards will be presented by Dr. Jason Stout and UTM students at this program.

• Black Avenue: Black Business Expo, 1-6 p.m., Feb. 17, Duncan Ballroom, organized by Keithon Currie.

• Oratorical contest, 4-6 p.m., Feb. 21, Duncan Ballroom.

• Night of Dance, 7 p.m., Feb. 21, Watkins Auditorium, presented by the Department of Music.

• Music by Black Composers, 3 p.m., Feb. 25, Blankenship Recital Hall, Fine Arts Building, presented by the Department of Music.

• Community Health Fair and Children’s Literacy Event, Feb. 26, Martin Public Library, 410 S. Lindell St.

• Black History Month Music Trivia, 6 p.m., Feb. 26, Boling University Center Room 206, presented by the Department of Music.

• Academic Conference, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Feb. 29, Boling University Center Room 230.

“We wanted to include something for different audiences,” Giles said. “We want to involve our students as much as we can, and one of the ways we are doing that this year is showing how much civil rights issues have evolved since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“For a lot of these students, it’s a way to understand civil rights beyond Dr. King. It’s a way to express themselves creatively. A lot of times, you can put things into context a little bit better through creative expression. Sometimes, rather than hearing someone or reading something, you can create something, and that is something that some of our students will be doing.”

Giles said the Student Art Exhibition held Feb. 12-29 will feature the works of UTM students in Stout’s class that show what they created from their viewpoints of civil rights.

“Dr. Jason Stout has been working with some of his art students,” Giles said, noting that some of their work will be featured in the Feb. 15 exhibition. “They are going to show what they created showing what they think about civil rights and what is happening in the world today. Civil rights is more than something that happened in the 1950s and 1960s with Martin Luther King. Here we are in 2024, dealing with some of those same issues.

“Our students are dealing with those issues as well, and we will see how they have expressed themselves creatively through their artwork in this exhibition.”

The Montgomery EJI Presentation on Feb. 15 will feature a number of students who took part in a trip taken with the Weakley County Reconciliation Project in October to the EJI Museum and Peace and Reconciliation Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

“We were fortunate enough to take some UTM students with us,” Giles said. “They were blown away, and some of them were overcome with emotion when they saw some of the exhibits, when they were learning about that part of this country’s history: the era of enslavement.

“I asked the students then if they would be willing to make a presentation to talk about what this trip meant to them, maybe some things they learned while they were there. This will be their chance to express their feelings and thoughts about this trip, maybe some life lessons that they learned.”

The presentation called “Black Avenue: Black Business Expo” to be held Feb. 17 will feature Black entrepreneurs to show what they do, enabling people to shop and see what local and regional Black businesses have to offer.

The Night of Dance scheduled for Feb. 21 will feature interpretive dance from several of UT Martin’s dance students.

“That’s always a very nice event as well, a well-attended event because we are showcasing our students,” Giles said. “We are seeing how they express themselves creatively through dance.

“The music department is also putting together a program called ‘Music by Black Composers,’ which should be entertaining as well.”

Giles said the UT Martin Civil Rights Conference has been a good way to bring in noted speakers to the university.

“It’s just a great way to bring these incredible minds to the University of Tennessee at Martin,” she said. “We are in our 24th year, and we continue to bring in these incredible speakers and incredible people who can talk about the world around us.”

More information about the UT Martin Civil Rights Conference can be found at

Photo: Shown are the scheduled guest speakers of this year’s Civil Rights Conference, (L-R) Carmarry “Pep-C” Hall, Roland S. Martin and Dr. Eddie Glaude.

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