Don’t Miss MTW!

February 17, 2010

David Grant, President and CEO

As I move through my last six months at the Dodge Foundation, I find myself appreciating the “gems” of New Jersey life all the more.  One of them is coming up this weekend: the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture at Rutgers-Newark, affectionately referred to by its devoted followers as MTW.


For thirty years, it has been an event of note during Black History month.  Indeed, there has been nothing like it as a sustained showcase of public scholarship on African-American history and culture.  But it is even more than that.

Picture the big meeting room upstairs at The Paul Robeson Campus Center overflowing with people, on a Saturday morning.  The Mayor is there; the President of Rutgers is there; sometimes the Governor is there.  So are Newark high school students and their teachers.  There are grandmothers with great hats and people who look like they haven’t glanced up from their Blackberries in months.

It is a joyfully diverse crowd at this most diverse of universities, and they greet each other as if this were a reunion – or maybe a concert where everyone felt lucky to have a ticket.  In an age where it is hard to get anyone’s attention for more than a few minutes, they settle in for the day – because MTW takes its time for the civilities of civic engagement.

For me, MTW is a vision of how universities and their communities should ideally interact.  It is about scholarship without being stuffy.  It is about important and potentially divisive matters, but it exudes a generous and inclusive spirit.  MTW assumes we can learn from our shared history, and we can make sense of it together.  I have said in another blog entry that I think art may save us. I feel the same way about the MTW celebration of ideas and human connections over time.

At the center of MTW, standing at the podium calling the event to order and welcoming us into its world, is the embodiment of its spirit, Rutgers Distinguished Professor Dr. Clement Alexander Price.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say MTW is the embodiment of Clem’s spirit, and that of his long personal and professional friendship with MTW co-founder Giles R. Wright, from the New Jersey Historical Commission.  This is the first MTW Giles did not help plan, as he died a year ago this month

Professor Annette Gordon-Reed

This 30th incarnation of MTW will take place over two days, not one, beginning on Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. and ending on Saturday at 4 p.m.  The 2010 MTW Letcure itself will be given on Saturday morning by Rutgers Professor Annette Gordon-Reed, whose book The Hemingses of Monticello, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize.  The theme of the two days is Laboring in the Vineyard: Scholarship and Citizenship, and fourteen former MTW Lecturers are returning to Newark to be part of the program.  See the Rutgers’ website for details.

The 2010 MTW program is dedicated to the memory of Giles Wright and John Hope Franklin.