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MLK Day Keynoters: Mavis Staples, Wayne Watson and Tim Wise

All of the commemorative events are free and open to the public.

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December 2, 2008 | by Judy Moore
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Legendary soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples will be the keynote performer at noon, Monday, Jan. 19, during Northwestern University's 2009 commemoration of the life and legacy of the late civil and human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The Evanston campus observance will be held at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, on the Evanston campus.

Northwestern alumnus Wayne Watson, chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, and a former Northwestern trustee and current chair of the School of Education and Social Policy's board of advisors, will be the keynote speaker for the 7 p.m. Evanston campus commemoration -- the annual Alpha Phi Alpha Candlelight Vigil at Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road.

Author Tim Wise, one of the most prominent anti-racism writers and activists in the United States, will be the keynote speaker at the noon celebration on the Chicago campus that will be held at Thorne Auditorium in the Arthur Rubloff Building, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

In addition to the keynote programs, Northwestern's observance will include a series of films, lectures, service outings and discussions that will be held throughout the days surrounding the federal holiday honoring the civil rights leader on both campuses.

All of the Jan 19 commemorative events, a Jan. 12 to 15 lecture series and a Jan. 15 Volunteer Fair on the Chicago campus are free and open to the public.

Staples is a more than 40-year veteran of the music scene, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and one of VH1's Greatest Women of Rock and Roll, both with her family group, the Staple Singers, and on her own as a solo recording artist. Her voice has influenced artists from Bob Dylan to Prince (who dubbed her "the epitome of soul"). She and her family began singing in Chicago churches and appearing on a weekly radio show. The Staples first big hit in 1956 was "Uncloudy Day" for the Vee-Jay label. Following her 1957 high school graduation, the Staples Singers took their music on the road. Led by family patriarch Roebuck "Pops" Staples and including Mavis and siblings Cleo, Yvonne and Pervis, the Staples were often referred to as "God's Greatest Hitmakers." By the mid-1960s, the Staples Singers, inspired by their close friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., became the spiritual and musical voices of the civil rights movement. Mavis Staples recorded her first solo album in 1969 for Stax and went on to achieve several Top 40 hits, including the #1 song "I'll Take you There."

As Chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago, Watson has been profiled as an Agent of Change. Appointed chancellor in 1998, he immediately began instituting the changes he saw were needed to achieve the excellence in education he wanted to bring to Chicago's diverse community. Prior to his appointment, he served as an associate professor of education at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. Flight lessons and pilot training led to two years as general manager of Wheeler Airlines, the first African American company offering regularly scheduled flights. In 1978, he returned to Chicago, accepting a position at Malcolm X College. There, Watson was appointed vice president of instructional services, where he served from 1980 to 1983. Leaving Malcolm X, he was named vice president of the City Colleges of Chicago, where he remained until 1986. Watson went on to become president of both Harold Washington College and Kennedy-King College before moving to the chancellor's office. Watson earned three degrees from Northwestern -- a B.A. in education, an M.A. in education and sociology, and a Ph.D. in education administration.

Wise is the author of "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son" and "Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White." He has contributed essays to 17 books and is one of several persons featured in "White Man Challenging Racism: Thirty-Five Personal Stories." A collection of his essays, "Speaking Treason Fluently: Anti-Racist Reflections From an Angry White Male" was released in September 2008.

The MLK Lecture Series will take place on the Chicago campus the preceding week, beginning Monday, Jan. 12 and concluding Thursday, Jan. 15. A Jan. 15 Volunteer Fair in the Thorne Auditorium Lobby of the Arthur Rubloff Building also is part of The D.R.E.A.M. Committee's public service component of the 2009 Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

D.R.E.A.M. is the acronym for Day to Recognize the Efforts and Achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The organization of University administrators and students coordinates lectures and programs on the nationally observed birthday of Dr. King to inform faculty, staff and students on the Chicago campus on the teachings and contributions of Dr. King.

For additional information, visit Northwestern's Martin Luther King Jr. Web site or e-mail mlk@northwestern.edu.