Civil Rights leader, freedom singer Bernice Johnson Reagon will deliver UNCA commencement address

Noted Civil Rights leader and Freedom Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon will give this year’s commencement address at UNC Asheville.

Chancellor Anne Ponder will confer honorary degrees on Reagon and legendary UNC-Chapel Hill Coaches Dean Smith and Roy Williams at the university’s spring commencement. The ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 15, on UNC Asheville’s Quad.

Reagon, a Georgia native, became involved in the Civil Rights movement as a college student. She was an original member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers and a founding member of the Harambee Singers. While a graduate student at Howard University, she served as vocal director of the D.C. Black Repertory Theatre and formed the internationally renowned African American women’s a capella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock. She led the group until her retirement in early 2004. Currently, she is a popular speaker at venues across the nation, performing in her unique song-talk style.

Professor emeritus of history at American University, Reagon also served as curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and as the 2002-04 Cosby Chair of Fine Arts at Spelman College. However, music has remained a constant for Reagon. She acted as music consultant, composer and performer for several film and video projects, including the award-winning “Eyes on the Prize,” the Emmy-winning “We Shall Overcome” and the feature film “Beloved.” She wrote the authoritative text on the subject of African American sacred music and has been featured on numerous solo and group recordings with Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Tar Heel Coaches Smith and Williams are legends of college basketball. Smith is best known for his tenure in men’s basketball from 1961 until his retirement in 1997. While at North Carolina, Smith helped promote desegregation by recruiting the university’s first African American scholarship basketball player, Charlie Scott, and working for equal treatment for African Americans by local businesses. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, two years after his induction into the North Carolina Hall of Fame.

Asheville native Williams has won the Associated Press Coach of the Year award twice. In his career at the University of Kansas and at UNC-Chapel Hill, Williams has taken his teams to seven Final Fours and led the Tar Heels to two NCAA National Championships. In 2007, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The North Asheville Tailgate Market, which is held on campus on Saturday mornings, will be moved to the nearby parking lot of Covenant Presbyterian Church on Edgewood Rd. during Commencement. It will return to campus on May 22.


About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

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