Julia Putnam, Tim Wise to deliver MLK Symposium keynote


Author and educator Tim Wise and Detroit school principal and writer Julia Putnam will deliver the 33rd annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium memorial keynote lecture.

Both Putnam and Wise will offer remarks, and a moderated dialogue will follow. The lecture begins at 10 a.m. Jan. 21 in Hill Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Photo of Julia Putnam
Julia Putnam

Tim Wise

A lifelong Detroiter, Putnam is known for her work in community building as a founding member and current principal of The James and Grace Lee Boggs School.

Wise is a prominent anti-racist writer and educator.

Lumas Helaire, associate director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, said in the past couple of years there has been “a surge of racism and bias incidents that have taken national prominence.” He said Putnam and Wise were chosen to deliver the keynote because of their demonstrated commitment to inclusion and community building.

“Tim Wise is consistent and active in networking with individuals and organizations to combat racism through activism, education and dialogue,” said Helaire, who also is president of the Boggs School’s board.

Putnam is a founder and principal of a school that is inclusive of all students, and committed to educating and engaging children around community building.

“In particular, the Boggs School has shown courage in tackling the issue of talking to children about race and other social justice issues that impact Michigan citizens,” Helaire said.

When she was 16, Putnam became the first young person to sign up for Detroit Summer, a youth volunteer organization started by James and Grace Lee Boggs in 1992.

She taught for five years in Detroit, including as writer-in-residence for the InsideOut Literary Arts program, and wrote a regular column on education for the Michigan Citizen.

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In 2008, Putnam became part of the founding team for The James and Grace Lee Boggs School and has served as principal since it opened in 2013. She was the keynote speaker at Eastern Michigan University’s 2014 EcoJustice and Activism Conference and the 2017 Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative’s Place-Based Education Conference.

Wise has spent the past 25 years speaking to audiences in all 50 states and he hosts the “Speak Out With Tim Wise” podcast. He has trained corporate, government, entertainment, media, law enforcement, military and medical industry professionals on methods for dismantling racism in their institutions. He has provided anti-racism training to educators and administrators nationwide.

Named by Utne Reader as one of “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” Wise is the author of seven books, including his memoir “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.”

From 1999 to 2003, Wise was an adviser to the Fisk University Race Relations Institute and in the 1990s, he served as youth coordinator and associate director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism.

The keynote lecture is coordinated by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives under the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It is co-sponsored by the Stephen M. Ross School of Business with support from the William K. McInally Memorial Lecture Fund.

The theme for this year’s symposium is “Unravel.” Helaire said King and others sought to “unravel America’s social fabric in order to tease out the ideals of justice and freedom that were being strangled by the strands of racist and sexist exploits of labor.”

He said “Unravel” signifies a call to action for individuals and institutions to examine and acknowledge the “bias of habits, norms and policies that result in identity-based disparities,” such as by class, race or gender.

“It is time to unravel when the land of the free has the world’s highest rate of incarceration,” Helaire said. “We chose ‘Unravel’ because it calls for examination and action, and thus opens the opportunity to re-stitch a stronger fabric that better reaches for the America proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.”


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