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Professor earns Glendale's Promoting Inclusiveness Award

January 18, 2011

When he accepted a new position with Arizona State University at the start of the Spring 1991 semester, Charles St. Clair was asked to read the “I Have a Dream” speech as part of a West campus celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. The celebration was designed in part to support establishment of a statewide MLK holiday, which was approved by referendum in 1992.

St. Clair didn’t “read” Dr. King’s most memorable speech as much as he made himself part of it. A tradition was born.

Twenty years later, St. Clair’s annual reenactment of one of history’s most significant speeches is the centerpiece of an event that touches hundreds of young lives. The “March on West” brings local middle-school children to campus to reenact the 1963 March on Washington, which provided the setting for King’s speech.

For this and his many other service activities that promote inclusiveness and diversity, St. Clair was selected as the 2011 recipient of the Promoting Inclusiveness Award from the city of Glendale, Ariz. He accepted the award during the city’s annual Unity Day Luncheon, Jan. 14 at the Glendale Civic Center.

“Charles’ contributions to the cause of promoting a society that is just, peaceful and understanding are impressive,” said Joe Hernandez, who chaired the city’s selection committee. “He has touched thousands of lives and continues to do so.”

Giving freely of his time within ASU and in the community, St. Clair serves on the Campus Cultural Committee and the Black History Month committee at the West campus, where he also is the faculty advisor for the Black Student Union. Outside of ASU, he is co-founder of the Fairmount Theater of the Deaf and a board member for Arizona Jewish Theatre.

St. Clair shares his experience and knowledge with students when he teaches classes like “Technical Production in Interdisciplinary Arts” and “Performance, Acting & the Individual,” offered through ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. He serves as technical director for New College’s Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. St. Clair is an Emmy Award-winning actor and director with more than 400 major productions to his credit in theater, film and video.

While these professional accomplishments provide him with great satisfaction, St. Clair speaks perhaps most passionately about his annual contribution to the March on West. (This year’s event will be held on Jan. 19.)

“For two decades, I have been humbled by the honor of sharing Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech with many groups, but it is the young people that have motivated me the most,” St. Clair said. “If there is hope for real and honest harmony in our country and the world, it is in the hands of our young people. I continue presenting his speech because I never know who will be listening or who will be inspired to do great things by hearing Dr. King’s powerful message of harmony among all people.”

St. Clair’s interest in promoting dialogue and understanding among cultures took him to the West African country of Ghana last summer. He and ASU faculty colleagues successfully applied for a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad grant for the monthlong visit to document “Stories from the Other Side.” The “other side” refers to those left behind when family members were taken away in the slave trade. Along with ASU professors and graduate students, teachers from Phoenix-area elementary and high schools made the trip.

“It’s our goal to make this project touch lives for many generations to come,” St. Clair said. “The K-12 teachers who joined us on the trip are devising curriculum materials that they not only can teach first-hand but also share with colleagues in their own districts and others.”

On St. Clair’s to-do list this semester is to continue work on a video documentary about “Stories from the Other Side,” using footage shot during the Ghana trip. A preview screening of the video will be scheduled later this semester.

“This is a story that needs telling,” he explained. “The experiences of slaves have been documented by many scholars, but it’s not nearly as often that we hear the stories of how slavery affected the families, economies and societies from which the slaves were taken.”

Because the project will help spread cultural understanding, it is in keeping with St. Clair’s desire to alleviate the divisions that still exist within and between cultures. To sum up his desire to promote a greater acceptance of one another’s differences, St. Clair utilizes Dr. King’s imagery. “I may not reach the ‘Mountain Top’ of educating others on tolerance, but I will not stop climbing.”