Mary Frances Berry, an American civil rights leader, came to Binghamton University yesterday to speak to students about the future of social justice.
Berry’s presentation, “Obama and Beyond: Civil Rights and Social Change in the 21st Century,” took place at 5 p.m. in the Casadesus Recital Hall in the Fine Arts Building.
The presentation, attended by about 150 students, faculty and administration, was sponsored by the Africana Studies department, with support from the University President’s office, the Provost’s office, the Graduate School and the Harpur College of Arts and Science, among others.
Berry, an expert in civil rights, gender equality and social justice and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, was appointed by President Carter and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a position she resigned from in 2004.
Berry has authored 10 books, including “Power in Words: The Stories behind Barack Obama’s Speeches, from the State House to the White House” with Josh Gottheimer, “And Justice For All: The United States Commission On Civil Rights And the Struggle For Freedom in America,” and “The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women’s Rights and the Myth of the Good Mother.”
BU President Harvey Stenger welcomed Berry and introduced her to the audience.
“I feel good that we’re in a space, we’re in a time, where conversations like this can take place,” Stenger said. “If there is anything I can do to make Binghamton better, it is to have more conversations like this.”
Professor Anne Bailey, chair of the Africana Studies department, said she was one of Berry’s graduate students “many moons ago,” and learned about teaching and writing history from her.
“She sees her students’ success as linked to hers, so my success is her success,” Bailey said. “She gave us the encouragement that we could succeed.”
During the presentation Berry touched on topics such as the war in Afghanistan, the Occupy movement and education policy, emphasizing social change and equal opportunity.
“Making progress depends on what we do,” Berry said. “And what we make the courts do or any elected official do.”
Berry also emphasized learning about and understanding politics.
“Protest is an essential ingredient in politics,” Berry said.
Berry concluded her presentation by reminding the audience that progress can come in little steps.
“Every generation has to make a dent in the wall of injustice,” Berry said. “Our task is helping ourselves and helping each other.”
Shekima McNair, a senior majoring in Africana Studies who attended the event, said the presentation was very inspirational.
“She covered a lot of different issues,” McNair said. “Especially education because it’s a big issue. If education was better, society would be too. I’m glad she touched on that.”
“I’m proud to have attended the talk and that there are people in America who are still pursuing the fight for integration of American society,” said Moulay Ali Bouânani, a professor of Africana Studies. “Integration of American society for people of all ethnicities, both native and immigrants. She talked about, has a mind, for the well-being of everyone and not just the African American community.”