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HomeAcademicsFirst Year Seminar Ambassador Speaker Series Focuses on Transformative Justice

First Year Seminar Ambassador Speaker Series Focuses on Transformative Justice

Every year, Belmont freshmen spend their first semester working through a common anthology as they take the required First Year Seminar (FYS) course that addresses “ways of knowing,” helping them transition to college life by engaging in challenging readings, ideas and opportunities to practice critical thinking. 

To accompany this year’s FYS classes, an ambassador speaker series is lined up for the fall that will look at the theme of Transformative Justice.

Author of “The Sun Does Shine,” series Keynote Anthony Ray Hinton spent 30 years on death row before the Supreme Court unanimously decided in his favor. Hinton will share his story of hope at Belmont on September 25 at 7 p.m. in the Curb Event Center, open to the public.

Hinton spent 30 years enduring false accusations, a wrongful conviction and an entire community of people who tagged him with a crime he did not commit. The Equal Justice Initiative took on the job of representing Hinton legally, with the goal of reducing his death sentence to a life sentence, but Hinton refused to settle. He wanted the truth to be known. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of “Just Mercy” Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015.

Associate Professor of Religion and the Arts Dr. David Dark, who is serving as this year’s FYS ambassador, said Hinton appears among us as a pioneer of moral seriousness, taking on the work of lifting his own voice, knowing his own moral power and somehow accessing a human future despite the dire circumstances in front of him.

“Hinton is the perfect example of a Socratic thinker, an activist, an ally to the community he was in. He started a book club and committed himself to being a teacher, a co-learner and a partner in seeking flourishing in a tortuous, impossible situation,” Dark said. “Bringing him in as this year’s keynote speaker places before students, their families and the watching world the call to transformative justice.”

“Hinton, in a very moving way, insisted on trying to love and pray for and prophetically confront the system as well as the people who were behaving villainously toward him. His story invites us to think harder about justice in our own world,” Dark continued. “My hope is that students will recognize Anthony Ray Hinton as a primary living agent of hope and as a figure who both insisted on asking questions about the way the world is ordered and on being an advocate for those who have been crushed, himself included, by a system that does not serve everyone equally.”

Dark’s review of Hinton’s book was recently published in Chapter Sixteen, a Tennessee Book Review. Read his review of “The Sun Does Shine” here.

A full list of speakers and their descriptions can be found below. All events are open to the public, and all events will present an opportunity for students to submit questions for the speakers.

Justin Jones

September 16 at 10 a.m., Fourth Floor Conference Room of the Janet Ayers Academic Building

Justin Jones is author of “The People’s Plaza,” activist and candidate for Tennessee’s House of Representatives. A leader of the Free the Plaza movement, he organizes for the expansion of healthcare in Tennessee, the repeal of restrictive state voter ID laws, the removal of confederate monuments and community accountability in cases of police violence.

Keynote address: Anthony Ray Hinton

September 25 at 7 p.m., Curb Event Center

Hinton was exonerated after spending nearly three decades on death row in Alabama. He will share his story of hope and justice.

Public Conversation with Anthony Ray Hinton

September 26 at 10 a.m., Massey Performing Arts Center

Conversation facilitated by Dr. David Dark and open to all students.

Rahim Buford

October 7 at 10 a.m., Massey Performing Arts Center

Mr. Buford spent 26 years in Tennessee prisons, is the founder of Unheard Voices and facilitates classes and workshops at juvenile detention centers which assist incarcerated Tennesseans in their transition back into the civic, economic and technological communities.

Public lecture by David Dark: “Candor, Courage, and Conscience: The Moral Witness of Reality Winner”

October 19 at 10 a.m., Fourth Floor Conference Room of the Janet Ayers Academic Building

Prior to the event with Reality Winner on Friday, Dr. David Dark will give a public lecture on Winner’s story and the concepts of whistleblowing and conscience.

Reality Winner

October 21 at 10 a.m., Massey Performing Arts Center, Live video conversation

While serving in the Air Force, Winner released classified info on Russian interference in the 2016 elections and received the longest sentence ever given to a civilian for such a leak. She was placed in solitary confinement for four years, losing contact with her family, unallowed to speak to the press, unable to even read her Bible. Having been released now, Winner will share details about her experience.

Larycia Hawkins

October 28 at 10 a.m., Massey Performing Arts Center

Hawkins was fired from her teaching position at Wheaton College for affirming solidarity between Muslims and Christians. She is currently a professor at the University of Virginia where she teaches politics and religious studies.

“Same God” Film

October 28 at 6 p.m., Johnson Center Theater

The film “Same God” explores the story and broader issue of solidarity.

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