Embracing progress


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A white man kisses a black woman on television — nothing out of the ordinary anymore.

The first such kiss on television occurred between Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) on “Star Trek: The Original Series” in 1968. Such a seemingly small event created an uproar at the time.

Now, more than four decades later, community members are celebrating progress with the Human Rights Festival. An array of activities will take place to recognize that progress and to look forward to the accomplishments that lie ahead.

• “Set Phasers to Equality: ‘Star Trek’ and Human Rights” will take place at 7 p.m. today in the Afro-American Cultural Center and will address the way in which “Star Trek” played a role in tackling issues involving ethnicity and sex, including that monumental kiss. The discussion is sponsored by the Starfleet Academy Young Officers’ Club, a new student organization cofounded by Bryne Berry, a UI freshman. She said the human-rights festival is important to her, and she believes now is a great time for the people to reflect on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the progress made in human rights.

• “A Celebration of the Civil Rights Movement: Where we have Been, Where we Are, Where we are Going” will feature James Lawson, one of the prime leaders in the civil-rights movement. He organized the Nashville sit-ins and promoted nonviolence when he refused to take part in the military draft. The lecture will be held in the Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St., at 7 p.m. today.
Louis De Grazia, an Iowa City local, was a friend of Lawson’s when they both attended Oberlin College in 1955.

“He became very instrumental in the whole human-rights struggle and has been ever since,” De Grazia said. “His real interest all of his life has been human rights and social justice.”

• “We are Not Afraid” will feature UI mathematics Professor Philip Kutzko at 4 p.m. Friday in 2229 Seamans Center. The lecture is part of “Sciences and Engineering Celebrate Dr. King.” Kutzko, who has been a part of the UI mathematics faculty since 1974, received the 2008 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, Engineering Mentoring from President Obama. Kutzko has also earned many other national awards.

Esther Baker, the director of external relations in the College of Liberal Arts and Science, said the school chose Kutzko as the focus of the event because minority students are underrepresented across the United States, especially in the fields of science and mathematics.

“But the college has made it a priority to attract and retain a diverse student population in these underrepresented fields of study, and Dr. Kutzko has been a great champion of diversity,” Baker wrote in an e-mail.

• Katrina’s Children follows 19 children living in different parts of New Orleans and shows how Hurricane Katrina affected each of them differently. Told from the children’s points of view, the movie features artwork from each child that reveals how socioeconomic situations affected each adolescent. The documentary shows at 7 p.m. Jan. 25 in Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room A, 123 S. Linn St. A panel discussion will follow.

• On Jan. 26, the Human Rights Fair will feature 11 different student groups talking about their organizations from noon to 2 p.m. on the first floor of the Blank Honors Center. UI senior Amy Palace, an intern for the UI Center for Human Rights, organized the fair. The journalism and international studies major said she is very passionate about human rights.

“Everybody deserves dignity, and there are a lot of ways that we could all help each other out more,” she said. “Plus, I think it’s really important for people to be aware culturally and socially — not to be just involved in their own little bubble but to start caring for other people.”

As the celebration of human rights and diversity continues, people can remember where they have been and look forward to where they are going.

“In the 42 years since Dr. King’s death, much progress has been made, and with this progress has come the gradual abatement of fear among our citizens,” Kutzko wrote in an e-mail. “If we are to serve these students well, we must, I think, face these fears squarely and overcome them; it is only appropriate then, as we reflect on the legacy of Dr. King, that we turn to his words and deeds for guidance and inspiration.”

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