Rebuilding Democracy Speakers Series kicks off Dec. 1 with Eugene Robinson

The NIU community is invited to join the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1 as they kick off their Rebuilding Democracy Speakers Series with Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and MSNBC Political Analyst Eugene Robinson.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and MSNBC Political Analyst Eugene Robinson will be the featured guest during the kick-off of the Rebuilding Democracy Speakers Series hosted by NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The event, conducted on Zoom, will feature Robinson discussing a variety of topics such as rebuilding democracy and restoring civility, voting rights, the ongoing fight for equity and inclusion, expected action by a new administration regarding the pandemic and the environment and restoring America’s reputation on the global stage with Dean Robert Brinkmann. A moderated question and answer session will follow.

Advanced registration is required. Go to http://go.niu.edu/CLAS-Series-Registration to request a link to the event. Event links will be sent out from the [email protected] mailbox one day prior to the event.

Robinson writes a column twice a week for The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1980. The author of three books, Robinson was awarded a Pulitzer for commentary in 2009 for his columns on the 2008 presidential race.

During his 30-year career at The Washington Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s award winning Style section. He has written books about race in Brazil and music in Cuba, covered a heavyweight championship fight, witnessed riots in Philadelphia and a murder trial in the deepest Amazon, handicapped three editions of American Idol, acquired fluent Spanish and passable Portuguese and sat with presidents, dictators and the Queen of England.

He saw, long before the states were split into red and blue, that politics and culture are always intertwined. He sees how the great trends that are reshaping our society are also reshaping our neighborhoods, our families, ourselves. Immigration, for example, is far more than a tally of how many people moved from somewhere else to America. It’s also the story of a changing inner-city block that rises or sinks as newcomers arrive. It’s the story of how the grammar and syntax of a new hybrid language are forged in basketball or soccer games at the local playground. It’s the story of a woman, all but cloistered in her home country, who walks down a public street for the first time in her life without a veil. Or the story of a man, raised in society where machismo still rules, learning for the first time to regard his wife as a breadwinner, perhaps eventually as an equal.

Robinson was born and raised in Orangeburg, SC. He remembers the culminating years of the Civil Rights Movement—the “Orangeburg Massacre,” a 1968 incident in which police fired on students protesting a segregated bowling alley and killed three unarmed young men, took place within sight of his house just a few hundred yards away. He was educated at Orangeburg High School, where he was one of a handful of black students on the previously all white campus; and the University of Michigan, where during his senior year he was the first black student to be named co-editor-in-chief of the award-winning student newspaper, The Michigan Daily.

He began his journalism career at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was one of two reporters assigned to cover the trial of kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst which arguably set the pattern for all the saturation-coverage celebrity trials that have followed.

Robinson joined The Washington Post in 1980 as city hall reporter, covering the first term of Washington’s larger-than-life mayor, Marion Barry. For the first time since Orangeburg, race became a dominant issue in Robinson’s life—as city hall reporter, he was the de facto emissary of a powerful white institution, The Washington Post, to an ambitious, race-conscious, black-run government of a majority black city. There he learned another important lesson: Man-in-the-middle is never a comfortable role, but sometimes it’s a necessary one.

During the 1987-88 academic year, on leave from The Post, Robinson was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University. He began studying the Spanish language—he had always promised himself that if he ever had a year off he would learn Spanish, since that would be useful for any journalist in a nation where immigration from Latin America was already gathering steam. Study of the language quickly led to courses on Latin American literature, history and politics.

On his return to the paper he was named The Post’s South America correspondent, based in Buenos Aires, a post he held from 1988-1992. In addition to covering the murder trial in the Amazon, he also conducted research for his first book, Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to and Affirmation of Race, published in 1999. For the subsequent two years, he was London bureau chief, affording him the opportunity to sit in one of the gilded state rooms of Buckingham Palace as Queen Elizabeth II committed the investiture of a new crop of knights and ladies. Robinson returned to Washington to become The Post’s foreign editor in February 1994. That same year he was elected to the Council of Foreign Relations.

In 2010, Robinson was elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board. He is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the NABJ Hall of Fame. His second book, Last Dance in Havana: The Final Days of Fidel and the Start of the New Cuban Revolution—an examination of contemporary Cuba, looking at the society through the vibrant music scene—was published in 2004. His third book, Disintegration (2010), discusses the disintegration of the black community into four distinct sectors—and the implication for policies such as school reform, urban renewal and affirmative action.

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