Press Release

Rothko Chapel Presents Beyond The Rhetoric -  A Symposium Exploring Civil Rights And Shared Responsibility

March 11, 2022

Virtual symposium on March 31 and April 1 culminates

 the Chapel’s 50th anniversary programming.

 

Houston, TX – On March 31 and April 1, the Rothko Chapel will host a virtual symposium, “Beyond the Rhetoric: Civil Rights & Our Shared Responsibility” to examine different understandings of, and approaches to, furthering human rights and civil liberties in the United States. The two-day virtual symposium engages seasoned and emerging social justice leaders to explore critical intersecting civil and human rights issues, as well as how individuals, communities, and policy makers can work together to create a more equitable future for all.

 

“Since the Rothko Chapel’s founding in 1971, furthering civil rights and social justice have been core to the Chapel’s mission,” says David Leslie, the Chapel’s Executive Director. “Leading up to and during the Chapel’s 50th Anniversary we have devoted more than a year of programming to delve deeper into these critical topics and this symposium is the culmination of this exploration.”

 

The symposium is comprised of seven sessions, including presentations, panel discussions and networking opportunities. Topics include, but are not limited to, freedom of speech, the future of civil rights, reimagining the prison system, sustaining activism and organizing for change.

 

The symposium’s keynote conversation is with Michelle Alexander, civil rights lawyer, activist, and author of bestselling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

 

Beyond the Rhetoric aims to examine the future of civil and human rights in the United States and represents the Rothko Chapel’s continued commitment to this complex and critical topic. This symposium concludes a multi-year effort to further the Rothko Chapel’s programming, and community

engagement around the topic of social justice, while honoring the Chapel’s history both as a landmark of modern sacred art and as a celebrated site for transformative and inspirational experiences.

 

The Symposium will be live-streamed. Details for registration can be found here.

 

 

The symposium schedule includes the following events:

 

Thursday, March 31 (3:00 – 7:30 PM CT / 2 sessions)

 

3:00 - 4:30 PM CT (Vimeo)

Welcome and Overview from David Leslie

Panel Discussion | Freedom of Speech & Expression in Journalism, Education & the Arts


The First Amendment of the US Constitution and Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee freedom of speech and expression, which along with access to communication and information, are foundational to other civil rights. Censorship and curtailment of expression through different medium impact all sectors including journalism, education and the arts. This panel explores current issues impacting and curtailing the freedom of expression in the US.

 

Moderator Michael Powell, reporter, New York Times
Joe Cohn, Legislative & Policy Director, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
Svetlana Mintcheva, National Coalition Against Censorship

Nabiha Syed, President of The Markup.
 

6:00 – 7:30 PM CT (Vimeo)

Where are we heading? The Future of Civil Rights in the US

Opening Conversation featuring Michelle Alexander with Larry Payne

 

Civil rights lawyer, advocate, legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—the bestselling book that helped to transform the national debate on racial and criminal justice in the United States—Michelle Alexander shares reflections on the state of US civil rights in conversation with local Houston community leader Larry Payne. Their conversation will explore the current state of civil rights in this country and the challenges we face in furthering civil rights and liberties into the future.

 

Michelle Alexander, writer, civil rights advocate, visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary

Moderator Larry Payne, Producer & Host of Dialogue Houston, HCC-TV

Poetry by Avalon Hogans, Houston Youth Poet Laureate
________________________________________________________________

 

Friday, April 1 (8:45 AM – 5 PM CT / 5 sessions)

 

8:45 – 10:15 AM CT (Vimeo)

Centering meditation by Juanita Rasmus, Pastor, St. John's United Methodist Church

 

Panel Discussion | Dignity, Equity & Access in the COVID Era


Access to quality healthcare, nutritious foods, a sustainable environment, adequate housing, education, and safe working conditions are understood by many as basic human rights and essentials to human dignity. This multi-sector panel explores inequities and endemic challenges related to access to healthcare resources, nutrition, affordable housing and living wage jobs, all of which have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists will also discuss successful cross-sector efforts to address these problems to further equity for all.

 

Moderator Katy Atkiss, former Disaster Resiliency Consultant, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Chrishelle Palay, Executive Director, Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition

Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health, Washington State Department of Health

Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

11:00 AM – 12:15 PM CT (Vimeo)

Panel Discussion | Reimagining Systems: Policing, Criminal Justice & the Prison Industrial Complex

 

Complexities around civil rights are clearly seen within this country’s criminal justice system, where violations occur regularly especially related to policing and the prison system. Debates around police reform and abolition, voting rights for formerly incarcerated people and decriminalization of drugs have reached heightened national attention. Lawyer, writer and organizer Derecka Purnell will share her visions for ending police and prison violence, followed by a moderated panel of other experts who will share their perspectives on how best to enact reforms leading to a more just and civil rights-oriented justice system in the US.

 

Moderator Jay Jenkins, Harris County Project Attorney, Texas Center for Justice and Equity

Derecka Purnell, lawyer, author, and organizer

Keri Blakinger, writer, The Marshall Project
              José Garza, Travis County District Attorney

 

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM CT (Zoom)

Networking Session | Activism & Spirituality – Sustaining the Activist Spirit

 

With so much to be done on the civil rights reform front, how can we sustain the passion, creativity and energy needed for long-haul social justice activism? In this interactive lunch session, members of the Rothko Chapel Spirituality and Social Justice Cohort funded by the Henry Luce Foundation will facilitate small group breakout sessions providing the opportunity for symposium participants to meet one another and discuss how we both as individuals and communities find ways to cultivate, engage and sustain effective activism.

 

David Leslie, Executive Director, Rothko Chapel

Sean Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, Jung Center

John Vaughn, Executive Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church

Caron Tabb, artist

Suzanne Benally, Executive Director, Swift Foundation
Matthew Russell, Co-Managing Director, project Curate; Executive Pastor, Chapelwood United Methodist Church; Co-Founder & Executive Director, Iconoclast Artists

 

 

1:45 PM – 3:00 PM CT (Vimeo)

Panel Discussion | A Threat to All: Redistricting, Gerrymandering & the Attack on Voting Rights

 

With voting rights legislation both rolled back and stalled in the aftermath of the 2020 election, and issues with redistricting and gerrymandering, this session focuses on the critical importance of voting rights and protections as part of the overarching civil rights framework. Looking toward the 2022 and 2024 elections, advocates at the local, state, and national levels discuss the challenges and opportunities before us including efforts to ensure the importance of each person’s vote and their role in being actively involved in the democratic process.

 

Moderator Mimi Marziani, President, Texas Civil Rights Project

Chris Hollins, Lawyer & former County Clerk of Harris County, Texas

Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF)

 

3:30 PM – 5:00 PM CT (Zoom)

Panel Discussion | Movement Building & Organizing for Change
Closing words and acknowledgements by David Leslie

 

Building and sustaining civil rights and equitable futures for all requires intersectional movements focused on individual and collective engagement. In this concluding session, seasoned organizer and lecturer at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University Marshall Ganz shares reflections on the collective challenges we face today and the importance of organizing around shared values. Joined by leaders in the Indigenous, climate justice, and women’s movements, this interactive panel provides insights into effective organizing strategies and ways to get involved in

today’s movements.

 

Marshall Ganz, Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing and Civil Society, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

Nick Tilsen, President & CEO, NDN Collective
Greisa Martinez Rosas, Executive Director, United We Dream

 

 

The range of presenters and moderators includes:

  • Michelle Alexander, writer, civil rights advocate, visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary

  • Derecka Purnell, Human rights lawyer, writer, organizer and author of Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom

  • Marshall Ganz, Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing and Civil Society at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

  • Katy Atkiss, Principal, Impetus Houston

  • Suzanne Benally, Executive Director, Swift Foundation

  • Keri Blakinger, Reporter, The Marshall Project

  • Joe Cohn, Legislative & Policy Director, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

  • Sean Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, Jung Center Houston

  • José Garza, Travis County District Attorney

  • Avalon Hogans, Houston Youth Poet Laureate

  • Christopher Hollins, Former County Clerk of Harris County, Principal Attorney, Hollins Law Group PLLC

  • Jay Jenkins, Harris County Project Attorney, Texas Center for Justice & Equity

  • David Leslie, Executive Director, Rothko Chapel

  • Greisa Martinez Rosas, Executive Director, United We Dream

  • Mimi Marziani, President, Texas Civil Rights Project

  • Svetlana Mintcheva, Consultant, National Coalition Against Censorship

  • Chrishelle Palay, Director, Home Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition

  • Larry Payne, Producer & Host of Dialogue Houston, HCC-TV

  • Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF)

  • Michael Powell, Reporter, The New York Times

  • Juanita Rasmus, Pastor, St. John’s United Methodist Church

  • Matthew Russell, Co-Managing Director, project Curate; Co-Executive Pastor, Chapelwood United Methodist Church; Co-founder & Executive Director, Iconoclast Artists; Assistant Professor of Recovery Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary

  • Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health, Washington State Department of Health

  • Caron Tabb, artist

  • Nick Tilsen, President & CEO, NDN Collective

  • John Vaughn, Executive Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church

  • Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

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