UIC Hosts Conference Honoring Pioneering Civil Rights Leader

The life and impact of Bayard Rustin, a key figure from the American civil rights movement, will be the focus of a conference at the University of Illinois at Chicago, March 30 – 31.

The Bayard Rustin Centennial Conference, organized by UIC’s Gender and Sexuality Center, will bring together artists, scholars, and community organizers to examine Rustin’s legacy and discuss contemporary social justice issues.

Rustin, who would have turned 100 this month, was an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and known for his use of nonviolent resistance. Despite his significant activist work, Rustin, who was openly gay, is considered an overlooked advocate for human rights and economic justice.

Keynote speaker is Mandy Carter, a lesbian activist and co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, who will address the legacy of Rustin and other centennial events taking place nationally.

The evening event concludes with a performance exploring Rustin’s life through traditional spirituals and uncovered letters composed during his prison stay as a war resister during World War II. The performance is co-created by Johari Jabir, UIC assistant professor of African-American studies, and Megan Carney, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center, in collaboration with UIC students and local artists.

The keynote address and performance are March 30 in the UIC Education, Performing Arts and Social Work Building, Room 060, 1040 W. Harrison St. A reception opens the event at 6 p.m. and the program begins at 6:30 p.m.

March 31 features three sessions on social justice and community dialogue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Lecture Center A1, 805 S. Morgan St. (access via Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted St.)

John D’Emilio, UIC professor of history and gender and women’s studies and author of “Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin,” will speak about Rustin’s career and the social changes that were inspired by his efforts.

The proceedings will continue with a roundtable discussion of scholars and community organizers sharing their perspectives on the modern-day significance of Rustin’s work. Participants will include Barbara Ransby, UIC professor of history, African-American studies, and gender and women’s studies; and Lisa Marie Pickens, co-founder and board president of Affinity Community Services.

The event ends with a panel discussing coalition-building in Chicago as well as projects grounded in intersections of race, class, faith and sexual identity.

Admission is free. More information online or call (312) 413-8619.

The Gender and Sexuality Center at UIC provides education, outreach, research and support for and about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied people. It is one of the university’s six Centers for Diversity.

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