Panel Discussion: Racism in America
December 1 – Thursday, 8pm
Michele Norris is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. Previously, Norris served as co-host of NPR’s newsmagazine All Things Considered, public radio’s longest-running national program, with Robert Siegel and Melissa Block. Norris began hosting the program in December, 2002 and stepped away from her All Things Considered duties during the 2012 presidential campaign. While on sabbatical, Norris spent a time traveling the country and developing two successful initiatives: The Race Card Project and NPR’s Backseat Book Club.
In September, 2010, Norris released her first book, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, which focuses on how America talks about race in the wake of Barack Obama’s presidential election, and explores her own family’s racial legacy. It has been called one of the best books of 2010 by The Christian Science Monitor. Using her memoir as a catalyst for conversation, Norris has addressed thousands of students through campus “One Book” programs, encouraging discussions about the history of race relations in the US.
Before coming to NPR, Norris was a correspondent for ABC News, a post she held from 1993 – 2002. As a contributing correspondent for the “Closer Look” segments on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Norris reported extensively on education, inner city issues, the nation’s drug problem, and poverty. Norris has also reported for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times. Her Washington Post series about a six-year-old who lived in a crack house was reprinted in the book Ourselves Among Others, along with essays by Václav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Annie Dillard, and Gabriel García Márquez.
Norris has received numerous awards for her work, including the 2010 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for she and co-host Steve Inskeep’s program, “The York Project: Race and the 2008 Vote”; the 2009 Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Black Journalists; the National Association of Black Journalists’ 2006 Salute to Excellence Award, for her coverage of Hurricane Katrina; the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Award; and the 1990 Livingston Award. In 2007, she was honored with Ebony Magazine‘s eighth Annual Outstanding Women in Marketing & Communications Award, and in 2009 was named one of Essence Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Black Americans.” Norris also earned both an Emmy Award and Peabody Award for her contribution to ABC News’ coverage of 9/11. She is on the judging committee for both the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Livingston Awards. Norris is also a frequent guest on The Chris Matthews Show on NBC News.
Norris attended the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in electrical engineering, and graduated from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where she studied journalism. She lives in Washington, DC, and is married to Broderick Johnson. She has two young children and a step son who attends college in California.
Jason Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal where he worked for more than 20 years writing opinion pieces on politics, economics, education, immigration and race, among other subjects. He’s also a commentator for Fox News, where he’s appeared for more than a decade, and a frequent public speaker.
After joining the Journal in 1994, he was named a senior editorial page writer in 2000 and a member of the Editorial Board in 2005. In 2008 he published “Let Them In,” which argues for a more free-market oriented U.S. immigration policy. His second book, “Please Stop Helping Us,” which is about the track record of government efforts to help the black underclass, was published in 2014. He joined the Manhattan Institute in 2015.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Mr. Riley earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has also worked for USA Today and the Buffalo News. He lives in suburban New York City with his wife and three children.
Morris Dees was born in 1936 at Shorter, Alabama, the son of cotton farmers. As a young boy he worked the fields with blacks, witnessing first-hand social and economic depravation and Jim Crow treatment at its worse.
While at the University of Alabama Law School, he met Millard Fuller. The two formed a highly successful publishing company during their time in law school. After graduation, they moved the business to Montgomery, Alabama. Fuller left the company in 1965 and later founded Habitat for Humanity. Mr. Dees continued the business and also began taking controversial civil rights cases.
Mr. Dees sold his publishing company to a major national firm in 1970 and formed the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with Julian Bond and Joseph Levin. Early Center cases included integrating the Alabama State Troopers and desegregating the Montgomery YMCA. The Center, funded by donations from over 300,000 citizens across the nation, quickly grew into one of America’s most successful and innovative public interest law firms.
In 1980, the Center founded the Intelligence Project in response to resurgence in organized racist activity. The project monitors hate groups and develops legal strategies for protecting citizens from violence-prone groups. A made-for-television movie about Mr. Dees aired on NBC. “Line of Fire” describes his successful fight against the Ku Klux Klan. It included the $7 million precedent-setting judgment against the United Klans of America on behalf of the mother of Michael Donald, a young black man lynched by the Klan in Mobile, Alabama. Wayne Rogers portrayed him in the feature film, “Ghosts of Mississippi,” about the murder of civil rights worker Medgar Evers.
Other victories against hate groups include a $6 million judgment that bankrupted the Aryan Nations, a $12.5 million jury verdict against the California-based White Aryan Resistance for the death of a black student and a $26 million verdict against the Carolina Klan for burning black churches.
Klansmen burned the Center offices in 1983. The arsonists were convicted but not before their leader plotted to kill Mr. Dees. More than thirty men have since been imprisoned for plots to harm him or destroy Center property.
To promote acceptance and tolerance, the Center founded Teaching Tolerance in 1990. Over 80,000 schools use the project’s free videos and teaching materials and over 400,000 teachers receive the award winning Teaching Tolerance magazine. The Center has won two Oscars for its tolerance education films and received five Oscar nominations. Mr. Dees believes that it is important to teach tolerance in the classroom as well as fight hate in the courtroom.
Mr. Dees has received numerous awards in conjunction with his work. The U.S. Jaycees chose him as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of America for his early business success. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice named him Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1987. In 2009, he was inducted into the Trial Lawyers’ Hall of Fame by the American Trial Lawyers’ Association. The American Bar Association honored him in 2012 with the ABA Medal, the ABA’s highest honor.