Eyes Forward, Looking Back: Learning Love and Humility from the Civil Rights Movement

Todd Allen

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In 1957, a group of African American clergymen formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization intended to advance the cause of civil rights. Taking as their motto a rather bold declaration-“to redeem the soul of America”- they believed that the way to transform society could be found in the Judeo-Christian ethic of love and the practice of nonviolent direct action. Looking back, it is clear to see how this philosophy changed the conditions of their time. What is perhaps less clear, is how these principles can be applied to the present historical moment. A hallmark of the civil rights movement is that it is the story of ordinary people who did extra-ordinary things. This talk will introduce us to some of these people and their stories as together we explore a way forward together.

Dr. Todd Allen is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies & Visual Arts at Grove City College. Prior to his time at Grove City, he had been employed at Geneva College for 23 years as an Admissions Counselor, Assistant to the President for Multicultural Development, and Professor. He received his B.A. in Communication from Geneva College in 1991, an M.A. in Rhetorical Studies from the University of Akron in 1995, and a PhD in Rhetorical Studies from Duquesne University in 2009. In 2006 he founded The Common Ground Project, a community based non-profit dedicated to promoting an understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. For the past fifteen years, in partnership with the PNC Foundation, Dr. Allen has led the “Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights” bus tour, an educational tour which visits many of the key southern sites of the Civil Rights Movement. The tour was featured in a 2006 documentary produced by WQED-Pittsburgh. For his scholarship he has been the recipient of numerous awards including: Fellowship at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (Yale University, 2010), The New Pittsburgh Courier 50 Men of Excellence (2009), NEH Fellowship (Harvard University, 2008), Minority Opinion Magazine Achiever Award (2007), Pittsburgh Magazine 40 under 40 (2005), the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh Racial Justice Award (2005), and the Geneva College Excellence in Teaching Award (2005-06). Dr. Allen was a contributor to a recently released book titled Black Scholars in White Space: New Vistas in African American Studies from the Christian Academy. Dr. Allen was also named to the Urban Heroes Class of 2015 sponsored by the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry (Pittsburgh, PA) with his story highlighted in Urban Heroes: Ordinary Pittsburgh Residents Who Do Extraordinary Things-Volume 3. Todd and his wife Lonette have been married for 23 years and are the proud parents of a high school senior, Bryce.