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Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree to give talk at URI to celebrate Black History Month

Media Contact: Elizabeth Rau, 401-874-2116

President Obama advisor to discuss post-racial America

KINGSTON, R.I., Jan. 9, 2013 – Charles J. Ogletree, a nationally recognized Harvard law professor and long-time mentor to President Obama, will be the featured speaker at the University of Rhode Island’s annual Black History Month lecture next month.

Ogletree, one of the country’s leading scholars on civil rights, will talk about the historic significance of Obama’s election and whether the country has made any progress to end racial discrimination.

“America widely celebrated the election of Barack Obama as the first black president in November, 2008,’’ Ogletree says. “Five years later, it is important to address this historic moment and whether we are making progress in the effort to create a post-racial America.’’

Free and open to the public, the talk will start at 7:00 p.m. Feb. 5 in the Memorial Union Ballroom, followed by a signing of his latest book, "The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class and Crime in America," which documents Gates’ mistaken arrest for attempting to break into his own home in Cambridge, Mass. The 2009 incident made national headlines and sparked a debate on race relations that reached all the way to the White House.

A senior advisor to Obama and frequent commentator in the national press, Ogletree has written and spoken eloquently for decades about the issues of race, class, and crime in America. He is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the founding and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at the law school.

He is the author of numerous articles, editorials, and books on race and criminal justice and has received many honors, including being named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal and one of the 100 most influential black Americans by Ebony magazine.

Born to migrant farm workers in the small California town of Merced, he showed a passion for learning and reading at a young age, an intellectual curiosity nurtured by his parents and grandparents.

During an interview with Black Star Newspaper two years ago, he was asked to recall one of his earliest childhood memories. “Libraries!’’ he said. “Just going to the library and dreaming that I was somebody else, somewhere else. As the Southern Pacific Railroad rolled through the center of my hometown, I would imagine myself climbing aboard to travel the world. Childhood dreams of the improbable are the very key to who I am today.’’

After high school, Ogletree obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Stanford University, before heading to Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1978. After law school, he worked for the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, first as a staff attorney and eventually as deputy director. He became a professor at Harvard Law School in 1985.

Over the years, his expertise on criminal justice and civil rights issues has informed the country’s legal and political landscape, with appearances on Meet the Press, Crossfire, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Tavis Smiley, America’s Black Forum, Frontline, and Larry King Live. He has also represented a number of high-profile clients, including Anita Hill and professor Gates, a colleague at Harvard.

Ogletree shares a personal relationship with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, whom he taught and mentored when they were students at Harvard Law School in the late 1980s. In fact, Ogletree is scheduled to teach a reading group called “Understanding Obama’’ during the spring 2013 term at the law school.

“He was quiet and unassuming, but had an incredibly sharp mind and a thirst for knowledge,’’ Ogletree says, of the young law student. “Even then, I saw his ability to quickly grasp the most complicated legal issues and sort them out in a clear, concise fashion.’’

Ogletree’s hour-long talk inaugurates URI’s newly endowed “Marlen Bodden Annual Lecture in Africana Studies,’’ which brings influential people to the URI campus to highlight and celebrate the contributions of prominent individuals of the African Diaspora.

“This newly established gift significantly augments the Africana Studies Program and contributes to the rich diversity and academic life of the URI campus,’’ says Rebecca L. Schiff, associate dean for development in the College of Arts and Sciences. “The University is fortunate to benefit from Professor Ogletree’s immense knowledge and expertise in law and civil rights. Charles Ogletree and future Bodden lecturers will inspire generations to embrace the evolving dialogue on race and justice in America.’’

Bodden is a writer and human rights lawyer with a passion for justice and defense of the disenfranchised. A lawyer with The Legal Aid Society in New York, the nation’s oldest and largest legal services organization, Bodden has spent decades representing disadvantaged and immigrant communities.

She tapped into this experience and her knowledge of human trafficking, human rights abuses, and modern day slavery to write her first novel, "The Wedding Gift," a compelling historical novel set in pre-Civil War times. Bodden is a graduate of Tufts University and earned her law degree from New York University School of Law.

“I am thrilled that Professor Ogletree, one of the country’s preeminent legal scholars, will be speaking at the inaugural Africana studies lecture,’’ says Bodden, who created the lecture series with an endowed gift. “He will set the proper tone going forward that this annual Black History Month event will focus on complex issues concerning the African Diaspora, such as race and equality, throughout the globe.’’

Pictured above: Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard law professor, legal scholar, writer, and mentor to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, is the featured speaker at the annual Black History Month lecture at the University of Rhode Island next month.
Photo courtesy of Palgrave Macmillan.

Pictured above: Marlen Bodden, who endowed the “Marlen Bodden Annual Lecture in Africana Studies,’’ is the author of "The Wedding Gift" and a human rights lawyer in New York.