Kweisi Mfume, J.C. Watts to Discuss Affirmative Action in UB'S Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: March 12, 2004

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- This year's Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative program at the University at Buffalo will feature two speakers -- from different sides of the political aisle -- discussing the role of affirmative action in American society.

The event, to take place at 8 p.m. March 24 in Alumni Arena on the UB North (Amherst) Campus, will present Kweisi Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, and J.C. Watts, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mfume and Watts will speak to the conceptual framework and historical background of affirmative action, as well as its relevance to such current affairs as racial profiling, civil liberties, federal education programs and the presidential election.

The pair, each of whom will make opening remarks and rebuttal remarks, also will take questions from a panel of five distinguished Western New Yorkers: U.S. Attorney Michael A. Battle; Donald Grinde, UB professor of American studies and history in the Center for the Americas in the College of Arts and Sciences; Clotilde Dedecker, executive director of the Erie County Commission on Status of Women; the Hon. E. Jeannette Ogden, Buffalo City Court judge, and Andres Garcia, vice president of community and government relations for Kaleida Health.

Mfume gave up his seat in the House of Representatives -- where he had represented Maryland's 7th Congressional District for 10 years, to assume the presidency of the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, in 1996.

As a congressman, Mfume consistently advocated landmark minority business and civil rights legislation. He successfully co-sponsored and helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, and authorized the minority contracting and employment amendments to the Financial Institutions Reform and Recovery Act. He strengthened Equal Credit Opportunity Law and amended the Community Reinvestment Act in the interest of minority financial institutions. He co-authored and successfully amended the Civil Rights Bill of 1991 to apply the act to U.S. citizens working for American-based companies abroad.

Mfume served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and later, as the Caucus' Chair of the Task Force on Affirmative Action.

From football hero to a remarkable eight years as one of the most effective members of Congress, Watts is an embodiment of the American dream. An outstanding quarterback, Watts led the University of Oklahoma to two Orange Bowl victories and twice was named the Orange Bowl's Most Valuable Player. As a rookie pro, he was named Most Valuable Player of the Grey Cup, Canada's Super Bowl.

An ordained minister, Watts turned his commitment to community after his football career. He was elected to the House of Representatives from his native Oklahoma in 1994 and served as the chairman of the House Republican Conference, the fourth-highest position in the House, in 1998 -- a position he served for four years. He was honorary co-chairman of the 2000 Republican National Convention.

Today, he is a member of several corporate boards and is co-chair of the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa.

The Distinguished Speakers Series is presented by UB and its Office of Special Events and the Don Davis Auto World Lectureship Fund. The Student Association is the series sponsor. Sponsor for the 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration is the UB Minority Faculty and Staff Association. Contributing sponsors are Verizon, Amherst Chamber of Commerce, Hodgson Russ, WBLK radio, National Conference for Community & Justice, Minority Bar Association of Western New York, Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems, Republicans of Color, National Fuel and the Law School, Cora P. Maloney College and College of Arts and Sciences, all at UB.

Tickets range from $28 to $12 and may be purchased at the Alumni Arena ticket office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, at all Tops outlets or at Tickets.com.