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Light of Hope event spotlights human rights issues

C.T. Wright
December 05, 2011

Human rights activists, interested citizens, and students from high school through graduate school will gather Dec. 9-11 at Arizona State University’s West campus for the 10th annual Light of Hope Institute Human Rights Conference.

This year’s event, presented by the master of arts degree program in social justice and human rights (MASJHR) in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and featuring the theme “Race, Education, and Justice,” honors Valley resident C.T. Wright, who has provided significant assistance to the MASJHR program.

“For decades Dr. Wright has had a profound impact on social justice and human rights issues around the globe,” said William Simmons, an associate professor in New College. “The conference dinner on Saturday night will serve as a tribute to his work. It will also raise funds for MASJHR student scholarships.”

Proceeds from the dinner will launch the Dr. C.T. Wright Social Circles of Justice Student Support fund. This scholarship fund will support MASJHR student initiatives including research assistantships and travel to Africa to conduct work related to Wright’s areas of interest.

“The MASJHR program is developing ambassadors from ASU who will make an impact all over the world in helping people who can’t help themselves,” Wright said. “I am honored and humbled by the establishment of a scholarship fund in my name. Having worked in the education field, I know how important scholarships are in helping students achieve their goals.”

Wright has been a visionary and tireless educational leader, most notably as President of Cheyney University. As President and CEO of the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help, he worked hand-in-hand with Reverend Leon Sullivan on numerous initiatives including the biennial African summits and working with major corporations around the world to improve corporate social responsibility. Wright has served in numerous significant capacities in Arizona including being the current past President of the Fountain Hills School Board, and a member of the Arizona Governor’s Council on African American Affairs. Along with his wife Mary, Wright founded and has served as Executive Director of the Light of Hope Institute which has undertaken important human rights work in Arizona, across the U.S., and around the globe.

A key element of the conference program will be “Social Circles for Justice,” the title of which is a nod to Wright’s hometown of Social Circle, Ga. These conversations on Dec. 10 and 11 will be facilitated discussions focusing on four specific topics: African refugees in Arizona, race and higher education, faith and human rights, and corporate social responsibility. Each discussion will culminate with a focus on identifying next steps to take, Simmons said.

MASJHR student Wanda Kolomyjec has played a key role in organizing the Social Circles. “Through this process I have learned how many wonderful organizations and individuals there are in the Valley doing important human rights work,” she said. “I hope participants will gain a greater understanding of each other’s points of view and perhaps also make connections with an organization whose work motivates them to join in and help out.”

“Today’s political discourse is often fragmented and polarized, preventing many people from getting involved in the democratic process or understanding crucial issues from different perspectives,” Kolomyjec said. “Very few news outlets reveal the range of viewpoints held by the public, and many views are rarely challenged by opposing opinions. People tend to cluster within familiar spaces, rarely challenged in their thinking or standpoint, reinforcing their opinions without deliberation. Our hope is that Social Circles of Justice can offer an alternative, creating a respectful space for exchange of experience and knowledge.”

The conference schedule on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11 is:

• Social Circles: Race & Higher Education: 9 a.m. to noon, Dec. 10

• An Anti-Slavery Movement: 12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., Dec. 10

• Social Circles: African Refugees in Arizona: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Dec. 10

• Scholarship Dinner for Dr. C.T. Wright Scholarships for Social Justice: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Dec. 10

• Social Circles: Faith & Human Rights: noon to 3 p.m., Dec. 11

• Social Circles: Corporate Social Responsibility: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 11

Conference proceedings kick off Dec. 9 with the third annual Youth Education Summit, organized by MASJHR students. Approximately 180 visiting high school students will hear from featured speaker Gerda Weissmann Klein, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The theme for this year’s summit is “Peace and Nonviolence.”

“The Youth Education Summit empowers high school students to educate themselves and engage in dialogue around contemporary social justice issues,” said Colby Jeffers, a MASJHR student who, with fellow student Lauren Chamberlain, took the lead in organizing the youth summit. They had assistance from several other students in the MASJHR program.

“Through dynamic, interactive workshops, students will have the opportunity to participate in rigorous, college-level discussion, meet campus and community leaders, and connect with like-minded teens from throughout the Valley,” Jeffers said. “Our goal is to inspire students to think beyond the boundaries of their immediate surroundings and to explore what it means to be leaders in creating positive social change in the broader communities of which they are a part.”

For more information about the conference and youth summit, visit