Virtual event on social justice activist Oliver Hill Jr. to kick off MLK Week at VCU

Hill, the son of a famed civil rights attorney, was known for his work with the Southern Initiative Algebra Project, which works to introduce young Black students to mathematics.

A portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the following text: "MLK CELEBRATION 2021 Jan... [View Image] VCU's annual MLK Week celebration begins Sunday with a virtual event on the life of Oliver Hill, Jr.

Virginia Commonwealth University will kick off Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week on Jan. 17 with an online discussion of the life of Oliver Hill Jr., Ph.D. Titled “Social Justice and Contemplative Practice: Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Oliver Hill, Jr.,” the free webcast will take place at 2 p.m. and is open to the public. Registration is required. 

Hill, the son of famed civil rights attorney Oliver Hill and a longtime psychology professor at Virginia State University, died last year at age 70. He was an advocate for social justice in Richmond and across the country. One of Hill’s most well-known projects was the Southern Initiative Algebra Project, which worked to introduce young Black students to mathematics. He also advocated for meditation and mindfulness and believed that with the proper encouragement, students could be successful.

"When I reflect on the professional life and legacy of Dr. Oliver Hill, I am reminded of a letter written by Dr. King that read, in part, that there can be no deep disappointment without there being a deep love,” said Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president of institutional equity, effectiveness and success at VCU. “Dr. Hill approached his professional work from the basis of faith, love and understanding, and an unwavering belief that institutions, and the systems created by them, could be fundamentally reformed to bring about economic, educational, health and judicial equity. And when those institutions continually failed to do so time and time again, while disappointed in their systemic outcomes, his belief and hope in its potential never faltered." Oliver Hill. [View Image]
Hill, who died last year at 70, was an advocate for social justice in Richmond and across the country. His father, Oliver Hill, was a famed civil rights attorney and a lawyer in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that desegregated public schools. (Courtesy photo)

Hill looked at the larger picture when it came to social justice work. He saw that the work done locally to advance social justice has an impact on the country as a whole. He saw the relationships between things and how those relationships make an impact, said Archana A. Pathak, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. 

“He embodies the idea that the work we do around social justice is bigger than us,” Pathak said. “He put these pieces together and looked at the lifeline of the process.” 

The panel discussion will feature Zewelanji Serpell, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at VCU; Michelle Chatman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of the District of Columbia; A.C. Fowlkes, Ph.D., CEO of Fowlkes Consulting; and David J. Dennis Sr., J.D., executive director of the Southern Initiative Algebra Project.

Renee Hill, Ph.D., Hill’s widow, will also share some remarks.

MLK Week remarks from VCU President Michael Rao

The university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week was established in 2014 as a way to honor and raise awareness of King’s life and legacy through communitywide educational programs. The theme for MLK Week this year is “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” a quote from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963.

Pathak acknowledged that MLK Week will be different this year. Normally, she said, the keynote discussion “pulls in a great community crowd,” allowing people from throughout the community to gather, and the week is filled with service projects and volunteering. With the pandemic, that is not possible and many of the events are scaled back or virtual. 

However, Pathak does take solace that the keynote discussion being virtual increases its reach. People from throughout Virginia and across the country can join the event online and listen to the discussion about Hill. 

“We are still going to be able to do the work, but it will just be different,” Pathak said. “It is so exciting. The global is local.”

The committee that organizes MLK Week is finalizing details for other events. They will be available on the MLK Week website by the beginning of next week.

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