Legendary Actor Robert Duvall Discusses Moving “From Ink to Behavior” with Hollins Screenwriters

Robert Duvall has appeared in some of the greatest movies ever made and played an array of iconic film and television roles. So, what has been the key to his success during a distinguished career spanning more than 60 years in which he has won an Academy Award, four Golden Globe Awards, a BAFTA Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Screen Actors Guild Award?

“Leave me alone,” the 91-year-old actor said bluntly but endearingly of what he has always sought from his directors. “See what I bring rather than superimposing your perceptions and concept. [Francis Ford] Coppola (who directed Duvall in 1972’s The Godfather, 1974’s The Conversation, and 1979’s Apocalypse Now) was very good at that. He wanted to see what you would bring to the table, which is a sign of a more than competent and outstanding director. I loved working with Coppola.”

Duvall recently shared his insights on acting, directing, and screenwriting during a conversation with students from Hollins University’s graduate programs in screenwriting and film studies. The event was made possible by writer/producer Colleen Hahn, a screenwriting student who first met Duvall on the set of Tender Mercies, the 1983 film that earned him a Best Actor Oscar.

“Colleen came to me and said, ‘Do you think we have any room in our schedule to talk to Robert Duvall?’” said Brian Price, director of the screenwriting and film studies programs. “I think my reaction was something like, ‘We’ll reschedule everything we have to bring Tom Hagen (Duvall’s unforgettable role in The Godfather) to talk to us in person.’”

In paying tribute to Coppola, Duvall recalled arriving in the Philippines to work on Apocalypse Now. “The name of the character was Colonel Carnage, and it was ridiculous the way it was written. So, I said to Coppola, ‘Let me do some research.’ I got with a guy who’d been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and he told me about the air cavalry. That helped me craft a part that made sense. Colonel Carnage was a joke, really.” Influenced as well by his own time in the service and his father’s military career, Colonel Carnage became Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore. The character would proclaim what Duvall said is one of his favorite lines of dialogue from his roles, and one of the most memorable from any film: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory.”

Robert Duvall on Zoom
Robert Duvall, who has appeared in some of the greatest movies ever made and played some of the most memorable roles of all time, spoke with Hollins screenwriting students via Zoom on June 27.

Duvall used the anecdote in part to emphasize his firm belief that “research, research, research” is essential to crafting an impactful script. “Immerse yourself in the subject matter and then put forth something that you love. I haven’t written that many screenplays, but sometimes I just sit down and start writing and just see where it goes. I go from A to B to C to D and just follow the logic of the script.”

As an actor, Duvall noted that when he reads a script, “I look for whether I can take what’s in ink and turn it into organized behavior. ‘From ink to behavior’ is what I call it. You let your imagination take over and encompass you and propel your ideas into results.”

One of Duvall’s triumphs as an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter was 1997’s The Apostle, in which he played a Pentecostal preacher. “I was doing an off-Broadway play where I played a guy from Hughes, Arkansas. I was coming back from California and I got off the plane and thought maybe I’d like to go to Hughes to see what it’s really like there.”

While walking down the street he came upon a Pentecostal church and decided to go in. “A woman was preaching. It was the first time I had ever seen something like it. I never forgot it and that was my guide in writing The Apostle.”

Duvall said he chose to avoid going “the Hollywood route” to get The Apostle made because he feared “they wouldn’t have taken this real sense of the subject matter.” As a result, “it was quite a few years before I could actually get it done. I also put up my own money.”

The Apostle earned critical acclaim (Roger Ebert said it was “a lesson in how movies can escape from convention and penetrate the hearts of rare characters”), but the reaction from two people particularly resonated with Duvall.

“I understand that Billy Graham liked it and I know for a fact that Marlon Brando liked it. So, I got it from the religious and the secular. We tried to present this aspect of a truly American art form, the American preacher, and tried to show him without any ‘Hollywood’ around him. We made it a personal film about that clapboard church I’d seen maybe 18 or 20 years before.”

Brando’s approval was especially gratifying to Duvall. As young actors starting out years ago, “Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and I used to meet at Cromwell’s Drugstore in New York City once a week. If we mentioned Brando’s name once, we mentioned it 25 times. He was our guy, a hero to us.” Later when he first worked with him, Duvall said Brando told him, “Screw the director. Do what you want to do.”

When asked about the roles he’s enjoyed the most, Duvall cited Walter, the retired Cuban barber he played opposite Richard Harris’s Irish seaman in 1993’s Wrestling Ernest Hemingway and the title role in the 1992 HBO film Stalin. But his all-time favorite role is that of Augustus “Gus” McCrae, the former Texas Ranger turned cattle driver in the 1989 TV miniseries Lonesome Dove.

“When I was doing The Godfather, I knew we were doing something important,” Duvall said. “The only time I got that feeling again in a strong way was when I did Augustus McCrae. One day when I was playing Gus I walked into the dressing room and said, ‘We’re making The Godfather of Westerns.’”

In recent years, Duvall said he has focused mainly on small parts instead of lead roles. In terms of retirement, “There always comes a day where you say, ‘That’s it, no more.’ I haven’t quite come to that, but almost.” He believes that “there will always be good actors. But it’s all the same, it’s always ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ To live between an imaginary set of circumstances, between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ is what you do. You try to be in touch with yourself and make that live from yourself.”



In Challenging Times, Valarie Kaur Urges a Hollins Audience to Embrace “Revolutionary Love”

In an unprecedented time that has witnessed the COVID-19 pandemic, the January 6 insurrection, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and other crises, Valarie Kaur understands why words such as “discontinuity” and even “apocalypse” have been used by thought leaders to describe this period of history. The civil rights activist, lawyer, award-winning filmmaker, educator, and innovator is convinced that in order for the world to persevere, “revolutionary love is the call for our times.”

Kaur explored how the idea might be put into practice during an address before Hollins students, faculty, and staff and members of the community at large in Talmadge Recital Hall on Wednesday, April 20. Her lecture was presented by the university’s Distinguished Speakers Series and helped kick off Hollins’ celebration of Dr. Mary Dana Hinton’s inauguration as the university’s 13th president.

According to Kaur, revolutionary love is “a revolution of the heart. Now, what is love in the face of what we are up against? The problem is not with love, it’s with the way we talk about it. We tend to think of love as this rush of emotions, but it’s more than that. I define revolutionary love as a choice to love beyond what evolution requires. What happens when we love others we do not know? What happens when we show up with that kind of love, even for our opponents? When we love ourselves, whom we too often neglect? When we lead with love, we learn joy, and joy returns us to everything that is good, beautiful, and worth fighting for. Joy is the energy that keeps us laboring, and revolutionary love is the choice to enter into that labor for others, for our times, and for ourselves.”

While revolutionary love has never been more vital, Kaur emphasized that it’s actually an ancient concept. “For 2,000 years, we’ve had spiritual leaders, social reformers, and Indigenous healers call us with that song of love. In every culture around the world, we’ve had prophetic voices ask us to expand our hearts beyond what we thought was possible, because we are connected. And, scientists are confirming evidence of that. We know now that we share a common ancestry with every living being. We know we are breathing in air that contains atoms that circulated in the lungs of our ancestors. We know that we are made of compounds that first formed in long-distance stars. We can look upon the face of anyone and say, ‘You are a part of me.'”

Kaur Book Signing
During a signing event for her best-selling book “See No Stranger,” activist and author Valarie Kaur chats with a Hollins student.

A key tenet of revolutionary love is an orientation Kaur called “Seeing No Stranger,” which is also the title of her best-selling book. “The choice to labor for others begins with wonder and the need to feel for another and compassion to feel as another. Those are tools that come and go, ebb and flow, but that first primal act is to wonder about others and to see others as a part of yourself. When we train our eyes to see that way, we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of being changed by their story, their interaction, and possibility their pain, which brings us to a second practice of grieving with others. You don’t have to know people in order to grieve with them. And in grieving with others in harm’s way, you get information for how to fight for them. Each of us has the ability to do the one thing for our communities for those who most need us.”

Wondering, grieving with one another, and fighting for one another are all components of what Kaur describes as “deep solidarity. What if we could take that kind of love and make it the way we are with each other? What if we could build communities so that every classroom, every campus, every workplace, every neighborhood is where that kind of recognition can transform the world around us?”

A healthy practice of revolutionary love in the face of conflict, Kaur said, necessitates a reassessment of one’s adversaries. “I don’t use the word ‘enemy.’ An enemy is a fixed and permanent identity.” Instead, she prefers “opponent” because it’s more fluid. “An opponent is anyone whose words, ideas, or actions are not what I stand for, but I listen to their stories and I see their wounds. I’ve come to understand that there are no such things as monsters in the world. There are only human beings who are wounded from fear, insecurity, greed, or blindness. When we see their wounds, they lose their power over us. What are the contexts, the cultures, the institutions that I can change that would stop them from being this way again and again?” Showing love even to opponents is termed “Tend the Wound” by Kaur, but the practice “depends on tending to our own world first. The solution is not to suppress your rage or to let it explode, but to process it in ‘safe containers’ such as singing, dancing, or wailing. I call that harnessed rage ‘divine rage.'”

Kaur uses the experience of childbirth “and all the ferocity of mothering inside me” as the basis for describing this current era as “The Great Transition.”

“Transition is the final and most painful stage of labor,” she explained. “You’re trying to catch your breath from contraction after contraction. It feels like dying. And yet, this is the stage that precedes the birth of new life. It is convulsive and yet pregnant with possibility.” Kaur added that in The Great Transition, “we realize that separateness is an illusion. The only way we can stand is with one another. The only way we will find longevity and resilience is if we do so in community.”

Kaur cautioned the audience that “this era of transition will last our lifetime. We may not live to see the world that is longing to be born. So our labor can’t just be a means to an end, it has to be an end unto itself. This is where we find the meaning of life. And what [our descendants] will inherit from this time will not be our trauma, but our bravery and even our joy.”

Hollins’ Distinguished Speakers Series was launched in 2001 when the university received an anonymous gift to support bringing to campus leading national and international experts from a variety of fields. The goal of the series is to enlighten students, faculty, and the community at large, whether their interests lie in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, or fine arts.


Civil Rights Advocate, Best-selling Author Valarie Kaur to Speak at Hollins April 20

Hollins University is welcoming to campus a leader whom The Center for American Progress calls “a standout figure in the world of interfaith organizing and activism.”

Civil rights activist, lawyer, award-winning filmmaker, educator, innovator, and best-selling author of See No Stranger Valarie Kaur will present a lecture on Wednesday, April 20, at 7 p.m. in  Talmadge Recital Hall. A reception and book signing will follow in the Lewis Reading Room, Wyndham Robertson Library.

The event is part of Hollins’ celebration of Dr. Mary Dana Hinton’s inauguration as the university’s 13th president. Kaur’s lecture is free and open to the public, but registration for in-person attendance is required along with COVID-19 vaccination status verification, including boosters (the online registration form includes an option where vaccine cards may be uploaded). Masks will also be required for all in-person audience members.

Alternatively, the general public may watch Kaur’s lecture via livestream. Registration is not required for livestream viewing.

Kaur leads the Revolutionary Love Project to reclaim love as a force for justice. She has won policy change on multiple fronts – hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, solitary confinement, Internet freedom, and more. She founded Groundswell Movement, Faithful Internet, and the Yale Visual Law Project to inspire and equip advocates at the intersection of spirituality, storytelling, and justice. Kaur has been a regular commentator on MSNBC and contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, The Hill, Huffington Post, and The Washington Post. She earned degrees at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School.

The lecture is a part of Hollins’ Distinguished Speakers Series. In 2001, the university received an anonymous gift to support bringing to campus leading national and international experts from a variety of fields. The goal of the Distinguished Speakers Series is to enlighten students, faculty, and the community at large, whether their interests lie in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, or fine arts.


Valarie Kaur Photo Credit: Amber Castro

MLK Day Address Spotlights the “Ecosystem of Activism” and the Women Who Made King’s Legacy

The Rev. Dr. Chelsea Brooke Yarborough believes that any celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. is not complete without recognizing the women who were essential in creating his legacy.

An assistant professor of liturgical studies and Styberg Teaching Fellow at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Yarborough shared her hope of expanding the King narrative in her webinar, “Activism and the Women Who Made King,” presented as part of Hollins University’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“Without the existence of Black women, Martin Luther King Jr. just wasn’t,” Yarborough said.  “That doesn’t take away from him but adds to the robustness of his legacy.”

Yarborough described the voices that surrounded King as “an ecosystem of activism. To study an ecosystem is to study the relationships of interacting organisms in any given community. Interdependence is the deepest gift of creation, the true mark of flourishing.”

She continued, “When we talk about the civil rights movement, too often other issues of intersectionality are left out of the conversation. I am struck by how often I hear [King] taught as an individual with a movement behind him, and not an entity within an ecosystem of other important parts.”

Yarborough centered on the contributions of “just a few of the Black women whose lives made King’s legacy possible.” 

“The Invisible Labor of Intimacy”

King’s wife, Coretta Scott King; his mother, Alberta Williams King; and his two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice King, were the civil rights leader’s “invisible labor of intimacy,” said Yarborough. “They are often the ones who take up the cost of the call in ways that aren’t written or archived. Their lives are critical to think about when we unpack the ecosystem of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activism.”

Yarborough cited The King Center’s description of Coretta Scott King: “From the earliest days, she balanced mothering and movement work, speaking before church, civic, college, fraternal, and peace groups.”

“For Coretta Scott King,” Yarborough said, “mothering was a part of the movement because she was raising Black children as she was speaking in these spaces about the necessities of justice and equity. The movement was also part of her mothering. She was speaking toward a world that her children would be better off in than the one they were currently experiencing.”

Coretta Scott King saw herself as her husband’s partner in the movement. She “spoke of the ways that for her, their partnership with its imperfections was put together by God and that she chose this life as part of her own sense of calling and legacy in this world. Martin Luther King Jr. was intentionally put forth as the face of the civil rights movement. Someone had to carry it. She knew that support, care, compassion, and presence would be critical, to be the voice of reason when no one else was around that said, ‘You can keep going.’”

Rev. Dr. Chelsea Brooke Yarborough
Rev. Dr. Chelsea Brooke Yarborough: “Who are the voices we might think about more fully and more deeply when we study anyone with a legacy such as Martin Luther King Jr.?”

After she wed Martin Luther King Sr., Alberta Williams King was forced to quit her job as a educator because Georgia law at the time prohibited married women from teaching. “So,” Yarborough explained, “she found other ways to participate in education through her activist work,” which included membership in Atlanta’s NAACP chapter. “Her grandson, Martin Luther King III, said, ‘Her greatest task was developing her own children. She explained the vestiges of racism, insisting that they must make this world a better place.’”

Martin Luther King Jr. and his mother were very close, Yarborough stated, “and his upbringing was foundational to who he was and what he became. We can’t forget the woman who actually gave Martin life.”

In his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech, King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” His two daughters, Yolanda and Bernice, were “the women whose lives Martin Luther King Jr. helped to shape in this world,” Yarborough said. “As I consider where Yolanda and Bernice, ages 12 and five, respectively, were with their dad when he was assassinated, I thought about the particularities of Black girls and how too often we forget that there are differences developmentally between Black girls and Black women. For some of us, we might be a little too quick to say the movement is more important than an individual family unit. But, I do think that it is important for us to consider what that sacrifice might be like for a child.”

“Complementary Oppositions that Create Opportunity”

Fannie Lou Hamer became active in the civil rights movement in 1962 and established herself as someone, according to Yarborough, who “was fighting for those that sometimes even the movement itself forgot.” Hamer was “a critical conversation partner [for King] because she made sure that class and education were part of the rights they talked about. Her affinity was to the call, not to King.”

To Yarborough, Hamer represented the importance of  a “complementary opposition in an ecosystem, an opposition that creates opportunity. Sometimes you need a voice that says, ‘Y’all are doing a good thing, and yet there’s still more to do.’” 

“‘Tell Them About the Dream, Martin’”

The address for which Martin Luther King Jr. is best known is his “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered before more than a quarter of a million people during the March on Washington in 1963. Yarborough highlighted the two Black women who played pivotal roles in transforming that address into what Brittanica.com calls “one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement and one of the most iconic speeches in American history.”

One of the first women ordained by the American Baptist Association, Prathia Hall was, in Yarborough’s words, “a preacher among preachers, a speaker among speakers.” King was in the audience when Hall delivered a prayer that referenced a dream. The prayer had a tremendous impact on King, and he remembered the dream motif when he and his colleagues were writing the March on Washington address. “Hall is so critical to this ecosystem because it reminds us that a moment in someone’s presence and in their circle can create a legacy that lasts a lifetime,” Yarborough said.

Among King’s closest friends was the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. “King would call her when he was in particular need of encouragement. It was said her voice carried a balm that would soothe his soul,” Yarborough said.

The March on Washington took place on a hot August day, and as King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, Yarborough recalled that “people were starting to leave. He was losing folks even though his content was good. His friend on the platform [Jackson] witnessed what was happening but knew that no heat was going to stop this moment from what it needed to be. Standing behind him, Mahalia Jackson exclaimed, ‘Tell them about the dream, Martin.’ Moving from a speech to a sermon, and moving from what was prepared to purposeful flow and proclamation, King found his rhythm. Using the ‘I have a dream’ repetition, inspired by Prathia Hall but ignited by Mahalia Jackson in real time, this [address] becomes what we know today.”

“Do the Work that Ignites You”

Moving forward from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day remembrance, Yarborough encouraged “thinking about the spaces and roles you can serve. Whether you find yourself at the face of a movement or somewhere else, your role is important. We can’t detangle the inherent interdependence of all of us. We all have a role, even if it’s not seen as the role.

“I invite you with hope, with love, with possibility, with joy, with all that is within you to step fully into yourself and do the work that ignites you, that centers justice and the wellness of those not often given the luxury. And as you do, don’t forget to take a look around at the ecosystem that is helping to make you.”








“We All Need to Breathe”: The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale ‘75 Counters Pandemic Anxiety with Mindfulness

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale ‘75 likes watches.

For years, the founding and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia, has collected time pieces in every shape, color, and style. Watches became an essential part of her wardrobe.

When Ray of Hope’s women’s ministry presented Hale with an Apple Watch, it was a game changer. As a fashion statement, the watch’s interchangeable bands meant she didn’t need to wear a different watch with different outfits. What’s more, she said, “Whatever I need and want to do is on my Apple Watch. I can answer my phone, read and respond to email and texts, program an exercise routine, store my credit cards. I haven’t even come close to naming all the things I can do because I’ve yet to discover them all.”

One of the most enduring discoveries she made occurred in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a day when she was besieged with worry about the well-being of her congregation and others and grieving over the losses she was personally experiencing, “my watch suddenly vibrated and said, ‘breathe.’ It told me I would have a better day if I took a moment to breathe. I said to myself, ‘This watch is clairvoyant. It knew exactly what I needed when I needed it.’”

The act of simply breathing on a regular basis was part of the wisdom Hale shared recently with an audience of Hollins students, faculty, and staff in her presentation “Mindfulness Matters: Physical, Emotional, and Mental Well-Being in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond.” Hale explained the state of mindfulness with a definition from scientist, writer, and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness is awareness cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and careful way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

The often overwhelming stress of daily life has been amplified by anxiety over the pandemic and the future generally, and Hale warned of becoming “‘human doings’ rather than ‘human beings,’ never taking time to enjoy, learn, and love while in the moment. When you’re always busy moving from one thing to the next, you fail to pay attention to what is happening to you in the moment.”

Hale went on to describe the debilitating aspects of stress. “It robs you of energy and the opportunity to live life to its fullest. It can lead to cardiovascular issues, decreased immune function, and an increase in recovery time from illness. When you’re stressed, you have a problem concentrating and thinking clearly, affecting your ability to learn and produce. It makes you irritable and hard to deal with.”

As a counterbalance, Hale urged “living in the present, in the now, and stewarding the gift of life we’ve been given. First and foremost is loving ourselves, which involves knowing ourselves. Each of us must learn to affirm our dignity and worth.”

Mindfulness is particularly challenging for women, Hale said, “because we don’t always know who we’re supposed to be. The world and people around us have certain standards and expectations about how we should look, act, think, react. When you allow the desires of others to determine who and what you will be, you rob them of the joy of being and receiving from the real you, who is vibrant and alive and exciting and valuable to the relationship. The world needs somebody with your intellect, your intuition, your creativity, and your ingenuity to show them what being a powerful woman is all about.”

Along with championing breathing as “essential to our well-being, not just physically but mentally and emotionally,” Hale offered these suggestions for achieving mindfulness:

  • Accept, believe in, and celebrate who you are. “See yourself in the future: Where do you want to go? Who do you want to be? What gives you joy? The sky is the limit to what you can be and what you can do. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different. Give yourself to the process of being who you were created to be.”
  • Take care of yourself. “Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, eat right, and exercise regularly. But, you must also learn to be still. When was the last time you just sat still and listened to the creative stirrings of your heart, the singing of the birds, the rustling of the wind through the trees? Doing nothing at regular times, experiencing calm in the wonder of it all, is healthy.”
  • Seek times of solitude. “Solitude is an investment. It is a time to recharge your emotional, your physical, your spiritual batteries. A time to dream, a time to imaging the possibilities of your life, a time to get in touch with yourself. Solitude is a time to gain insight or a solution to a pressing problem.”
  • Listen deeply. “Simply to refrain from talking without listening is not silence. Inner solitude and inner silence are inseparable. The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear with one’s heart and not simply one’s ear. It is cultivating an intimacy with your inner life as it unfolds.”
  • Be intentional about acknowledging your grief and your loss, especially during the pandemic. “One of the most devastating effects of this pandemic is the loss that we’ve all experienced in so many ways: loved ones, colleagues, friends, and classmates, the loss of people we didn’t even know but nevertheless are part of the human family. Loss must be grieved in a healthy and mature way. Mindfulness is sitting with our pain whether we like the way it feels or not. It allows us to learn, to grow, to mature, to heal, to be delivered.”
  • Embrace your limits. “We cannot do everything we want to do whenever we want to do it. Much of what happens to us is beyond our control. Limits are really gifts from God to keep us humble and to ground us. Limits remind us that we are of the earth and we have to stay committed and connected to the earth. Realize that life isn’t perfect. There will be pain and disappointment. We must live with it and learn the lessons it teaches us.”

Hale concluded with a message that “given all that we’ve been through as a nation and a world over the last 18 to 20 months, we need one another to help affirm our common humanity. We need one another to navigate through the continued uncertainty of the effects of this pandemic. We can’t make it without the other, and we have to learn how to be kind. Kindness is a state of being that includes the attributes of loving, affection, sympathy, feeling for another, and identifying with one another.”

A native of Roanoke, Hale graduated from Hollins with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music, and went on to complete a Master of Divinity degree at Duke University and a Doctor of Ministry at Union Theological Seminary. She holds five honorary Doctorates of Divinity and an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Because of her leadership and foresight, Ray of Hope Christian Church has been cited in the book, Excellent Protestant Congregations: A Guide to Best Places and Practices.

Hale has been inducted into the African American Biographies Hall of Fame and the Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers. She has been honored by the National Urban League and is a recipient of the inaugural “Women of Power” award. Ebony magazine placed her among its Power 100, a yearly compilation of the most influential African Americans in the country.

In 2009, Hale was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. She also served as a member of the 2016 Platform Committee for the Democratic National Convention and delivered the invocation at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Hale serves on the Hollins University Board of Trustees. She is also chairperson of the IC3 Conference Board; chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Beulah Heights University; vice president for the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference; a member of the Board of Visitors of the Divinity School at Duke University; a member of the UNCF NFI Advisory Council; and a member of the Welcome.US Council.





SisterMentors Founder to Speak at 177th Commencement

Shireen K. Lewis, who has devoted more than 20 years to mentoring and coaching women and girls, will be the guest speaker at Hollins University’s 177th Commencement Exercises.

The ceremony takes place on Sunday, May 26, at 10 a.m. on the school’s historic Front Quadrangle.

Lewis is executive director of EduSeed, which promotes education in historically disadvantaged and underserved communities, and founder of EduSeed’s SisterMentors program, which supports learning among women and girls of color.

Born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, Lewis double-majored in French and Spanish at Douglass College, a women’s college at Rutgers University, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and awarded the Moliére Prize from the French government for outstanding achievement in French. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in French literature from Duke University and her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. Upon her graduation from law school, Lewis received the Herbert L. Kramer Public Service Award from the faculty at UVa Law. Subsequently, she was a litigator with a New York City law firm and a Legal Aid volunteer in Durham, North Carolina. She was honored by the National Association of Women Lawyers for her work on behalf of women law students.

With a focus on Francophone West African and Caribbean literature, Lewis has taught at several universities and has presented her scholarship in both the United States and abroad. She is past co-president of the Washington, D.C., branch of the American Association of University Women.

Lewis has helped raise funds for a teenage pregnancy program at a high school in her hometown of Fyzabad, Trinidad, and for the first school in a village in Tibet that has the unprecedented requirement that 50 percent of its students must be girls. She has also served on the boards of several community organizations in the U.S. that promote education and equity for women and girls.

More information about this year’s commencement can be found here.

Pultizer Prize-winner Kantor Discusses Using Journalism’s Power for the ‘Public Good’

Reflecting on a career in which she spent years covering Barack and Michelle Obama and subsequently helped ignite the #MeToo movement, journalist Jodi Kantor is every bit as proud of a story she wrote that garnered little attention when it was first published in 2006.

“The article was about the two-class breastfeeding system,” she recalled. “New mothers who were white collar workers had lactation suites and quiet places and time off the job. But people who earn ten bucks an hour in coffee shops and restaurants and gas stations had neither the time nor the place to pump. The story had been published to a polite reception and kind of came and went. People reacted with concern but nothing much seemed to happen.”

Seven years later, Kantor received an email from a woman who had been moved by the story when it first came out and since that time had been working diligently to address the issue. She helped develop a free-standing lactation station for breast feeding and pumping, and was installing a prototype in the Burlington, Vermont, airport. Today, “those little lactation stations are spread across the country, over 400 of them at last count,” Kantor explained. “They’re giving women, especially hourly workers, privacy and dignity and a way to care for their babies.

“Compared to the glory and flash of the White House, it’s nothing,” she continued. “But it meant something to me and frankly it spoke to me in a way that nothing in political coverage had. It showed the magic of what readers can do. I got that first tiny glimpse that the audience can take our journalism and do things with it that we never dreamed.”

Kantor brought that message to campus during a public lecture in the Hollins Theatre on November 14. “An Evening with Jodi Kantor” was sponsored by the university’s Distinguished Speakers Fund, featuring the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and bestselling author who helped expose Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse allegations. Kantor and fellow reporter Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story in October 2017 in The New York Times, and their work has played a significant role in shifting attitudes and spurring new laws, policies, and standards of accountability around the globe.

The grandchild of Holocaust survivors, Kantor “grew up believing in the power of stories. I spent my childhood surrounded by people with numbers tattooed on their arms and steeped in questions like, ‘What really happened back then?’, ‘How could something like this possibly have occurred?’, ‘Why didn’t anyone stop it?’, and ‘Of the survivors, who is willing to tell their story, who is too traumatized to speak, and is it possible, even healing, to convince those people to trust you and open up?’ Even though I was far too young to think of it that way, [those are] some of the fundamental questions of investigative journalism.”

Kantor would draw heavily on that knowledge during her and Twohey’s months-long investigation of the Weinstein case. “Women would often say to us, ‘Why should I speak to you for a story? The risk is so high and I don’t want to be traumatized myself. Is there any gain for me, do you think any good will ever come of this?’ Megan and I always said the same thing: ‘We cannot change what happened to you in the past. But what we can do is help you convert the experience. We can take something very painful, something you really suffered over, and help you potentially feel very proud of how you handled it. We can’t say it will be easy, we know it can be difficult to tell the story to other people, but essentially you can take this pain and you can donate it to the public good. You can turn that private pain into some collective strength.’”

Throughout their investigation, Kantor said she and Twohey “had certainly felt the raw power of what we were going to report about Harvey Weinstein,” but were not sure whether their story would have much of an impact. “We knew that the history of this issue was a history of a lack of accountability. Some of our Hollywood sources had told us nothing would change. Whatever Weinstein did or did not do to women, that was how Hollywood worked, that was how men worked. One of our editors repeatedly pointed out, ‘Look, Harvey Weinstein is really not that famous.’”

Kantor remembered Twohey articulating their concerns during a late-night taxi ride just a few nights before their story was published. “After all this work we’ve done, after all the secrets we’ve discovered, what if nobody cares? What if nobody cares?”

At the same time, the two reporters and the Times faced a formidable challenge from Weinstein himself. “[He] was threatening to ruin us, we were writing under a legal threat,” Kantor explained. “He had even hired professional spies, Israeli ex-intelligence agents, to try and track and dupe us. Ashley Judd [one of several prominent actresses who was interviewed for the story] was putting her career on the line to tell the truth. Other women were waiting to come forward, hoping it would be safe. We really did not know what was going to happen.”

As it turned out, the Weinstein story had significant repercussions that persist more than a year after its publication. “It hasn’t stopped in New York, or Hollywood, or India, or here in Virginia,” Kantor said. “It’s been ricocheting in offices across the land and on campuses like this one. It has rewritten some of our personal and most intimate histories. What we’ve learned is that harassment and assault are not actually individual experiences, although it can certainly feel that way. The most powerful thing that you can see now is that it was a collective, shared experience. We know now that nobody who experiences it is truly alone.

“Many of us pride ourselves on knowing what’s going on with women and women in the workplace, but it turns out, we didn’t know the half of it. You can’t solve a problem unless you have correct information, and for a long time we have not had anything close to correct information about harassment or assault. Now, for the first time, while it is not fully complete, we have a more complete picture of what women – and by the way, trans people and men, too – have faced inside and outside the workplace.”

While Kantor believes “there are signs that very slowly and very messily, things are changing,” she emphasized that society must continue grappling with some difficult questions before a consensus can be reached on issues related to harassment and assault. Kantor and Twohey “are still investigating and we’re still writing. We are going to be focusing on documenting abuses for a very long time. We also want to use the tools of journalism – careful listening, fairness, nuance – to create the most productive social discussion we can and to move some of these issues forward.”

Kantor noted, “For many years as I practiced journalism, I became particularly excited about the potential for readers to act on our reporting, to take our work and use it in constructive and inspiring ways. That’s the real power of journalism. But, it’s not our power, it’s yours. It’s what you choose to do.”



Hollins Welcomes Prize-Winning Investigative Reporter, Best-Selling Author Jodi Kantor

Journalist Jodi Kantor, who helped expose Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse allegations and ignite the #metoo movement, will speak at the Hollins Theatre on Wednesday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m.

Admission to this special event is free, but tickets are required. Ticket reservations may be made here.

Kantor and fellow reporter Megan Twohey broke the Weinstein story in October 2017 in The New York Times. Their work has played a significant role in shifting attitudes and spurring new laws, policies, and standards of accountability around the globe. Together with a team of colleagues who revealed harassment across industries, they were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Kantor and Twohey also received a George Polk Award, the McGill Medal for Journalistic Courage from the University of Georgia, and honors from the Los Angeles Press Club and the Canadian Journalism Foundation. They are writing a book on the Weinstein investigation and sexual harassment, forthcoming from Penguin Press.

Prior to her work on the Weinstein story, Kantor’s reporting brought about changes in policies and operations at Starbucks and Amazon. Her article on working mothers and breastfeeding inspired two readers to create the first free-standing lactation suites for nursing mothers, now available in hundreds of airports and stadiums.

For six years, Kantor wrote about Barack and Michelle Obama. Her best-selling book, The Obamas, about their behind-the-scenes adjustment to the jobs of president and first lady, was published in 2012.

“An Evening with Jodi Kantor” is sponsored by Hollins’ Distinguished Speakers Fund.

Entrepreneur Tina Wells to Keynote Career Connection Conference

Buzz Marketing Group founder and CEO Tina Wells, who has spent nearly two decades connecting influencers and consumers to brand clients, will deliver the keynote address at Hollins University’s 2017 Career Connection Conference (C3) on October 23.

Since starting Buzz, which creates marketing strategies for clients within the beauty, entertainment, fashion, financial, and lifestyle sectors, Wells has built and managed a network of 30,000 “buzzSpotters” and 7,000 “momSpotters” to field monthly research for her clients. An earlier iteration of her company, BuzzTeen.com, was one of the earliest news sites dedicated to providing teens with content in fashion, beauty, entertainment, health, fitness, lifestyle, academics, and world news.

Building off her years of experience, Wells authored the youth marketing handbook Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right and the best-selling tween series Mackenzie Blue. She has also written for The Huffington Post, Black Enterprise, MediaPost, and Retail Merchandiser Magazine, among others.

Wells’ honors include Essence‘s 40 Under 40, Billboard‘s 30 Under 30, Fast Company‘s 100 Most Creative People in Business, and Inc‘s 30 Under 30.

Each fall, C3 brings Hollins students and alumnae together for an array of panels, workshops, presentations, and networking opportunities. Alumnae share how they translated their liberal arts education into satisfying careers and also provide tips, tools, and tricks of the trade to land that first job. Approximately 75 alumnae from a variety of backgrounds are returning to campus for this year’s event.

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Tippett Encourages Hollins Audience to Pursue “The Adventure of Civility”

Civility gets short shrift in today’s increasingly polarized society. But the creator and host of public radio’s On Being believes that with a 21st century sensibility, civility is on the verge of staging a comeback.

Krista Tippett admits that civility “is kind of an intense thing to be discussing in the year 2017,” which is why, she says, “I always rush to add qualifiers like ‘muscular’ or ‘adventurous.’ I worry that the word ‘civility’ has connotations of niceness and tameness and politeness that are too mild to be an antidote to our current political culture.”

The Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times bestelling author, who received the National Humanities Medal from the White House in 2014, spoke on March 5 in Hollins’ duPont Chapel before an audience from both the campus and greater Roanoke communities. Sponsored by the university’s Distinguished Speakers Fund in conjunction with Hollins’ gender and women’s studies department, Tippett’s address was a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8.

In contrast with the frustration and despair that shadow conventional wisdom about the national dialogue, Tippett said, “I find it helpful and even calming to pull back to a long and wide lens on the challenge of this moment in history, its possibilities for growth and change. This terrifying and wondrous century is throwing open basic questions that the 20th century thought it had answered. We are reimagining the very nature of authority, of leadership, of community. I believe we are in the midst of nothing less than a reformation, but this time it’s a reformation of all our institutions. We are each called as human beings to determine as best we can in ourselves what is just and right and true, live by that, and let that be a compass for the change we can make in the world we can see and touch. At the same time, it is up to us to form and inhabit resilient, creative, peaceable realities in an interdependent way that is unparalleled in human history.”

Tippett offered “a few encouragements” in achieving civility:

  • “Words matter. The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, and how we treat others.”
  • “Rediscover questions as civic tools and listening as a social art. It is very hard to resist a generous question, and we all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty and revelation. They may not want answers, at least not immediately. They might be raised in order to be pondered. Listening is about being present. It involves a kind of vulnerability, a willingness, very simply, to be surprised, to let go of assumptions, to take in ambiguity, and understand the humanity behind the words of the other.”
  • “Dare to claim and embody love as a public good. Love is the superstar of virtues, but also the most watered-down word in the English language. It’s audacity is in its potential to cross tribal lines.”

Tippett cautioned that “Common ground is not the same thing as common life. There is value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to one another with dignity without insisting on a goal of common ground that would leave all our questions hanging or calling the whole thing a failure when that didn’t happen. Common ground is not the same thing as common life, which encompasses all our disciplines and endeavors and all of ourselves as citizens, as professionals, as people of faith, and as neighbors, family, and friends. If we insist on common ground as a pre-condition, we narrow our possibilities.”

Tippett also noted that the physiological and psychological stress society suffers as a result of constant uncertainty and change creates pain and fear, which in turn provoke anger. All are potential roadblocks to civility.

But, she emphasized, “I believe that you and I, we all have it in us to be nourishers of discernment and fermenters of healing, to discover how to calm fear and plant the seeds of the robust common life that we desire. This is civic work, this is human, spiritual work in the most expansive 21st century sense of that language.

“I have seen that wisdom, both personal and collective, emerge through those moments when we have to hold seemingly opposite realities in creative tension and interplay, power and frailty, birth and death, pain and hope, beauty and brokenness, mystery and conviction, calm and fierceness, mine and yours.”


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