Wilson Museum Exhibition, “Suzanne Schireson: Aftercare,” Highlights “A Generosity of Spirit and an Intensity of Color”

As an artist, what do you do when a pandemic turns the world upside down and the constraints of caregiving make time alone in your studio utterly impossible? Do those additional responsibilities intensify your need for a creative outlet? How do you keep the demands of caregiving from stymieing creativity?

From March 9 through May 7, the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University is presenting Suzanne Schireson: Aftercare, a series of paintings that Schireson, an artist and professor who lives and works in Rhode Island, created from 2020 to 2023 to maximize her “studio time.”

“With a generosity of spirit and an intensity of color, she invents glowing, nocturnal, makeshift fantasy studios for herself and her circle of caregiving artist friends,” said Jenine Culligan, director of the Wilson Museum.

Suzanne Schireson, “Scaffold,” 2022. Oil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

“A dream of solitary space is contradictory in this moment,” Schireson stated. “As a mother in quarantine, I occupied more of my time with those I care for, making flashes of solitude particularly rare and inspiring….I find it is important to share a range of experiences and promote the multitude of ways that caretakers construct their lives.”

Schireson begins each composition with a fluorescent ground built up with saturated neon colors juxtaposed with impasto strokes and bands of tighter shades. The focus is on structures in the rural landscape; some are mere suggestions of a dig site; others are simple constructed sheds or lean-tos. Many incorporate the artists working intensely, feverishly, at a task, whether it is dyeing, weaving, painting, writing, or thinking and smoking.

“These artists are hungry to make art,” Culligan said. “In this nocturnal world, we witness the artists in action as they use short bursts of time and solitude to care for themselves and their art. In this work Schireson not only sustains her need to paint but also visualizes a world where artist friends have the space they need.”

Schireson’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia; Smith College, Northampton, MA; the New Bedford Museum of Art, New Bedford, MA; the Sori Art Center, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea; the Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, Guwahati, Assam, India; and the Carrousel du Louvre, Paris. An associate professor of art and design at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, she holds a B.F.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, an M.F.A. from Indiana University, and a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Schireson will present a lecture in conjunction with the opening of her exhibition on Thursday, March 9, at 6 p.m. in Niederer Auditorium, Wetherill Visual Arts Center. A reception will follow in the Wilson Museum. The lecture is also available via Zoom; contact cardenla1@hollins.edu for the link.

Top image: Suzanne Schireson, Turmeric Dye Night, 2022. Oil on paper. Courtesy of the artist. 

Third Annual Leading EDJ Conference Continues the Work in Building “A More Inclusive and Equitable Hollins University”

Hollins University President Mary Dana Hinton urged students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i to “choose to see the bared humanity of one another and choose not to look away from the discomfort, but rather to lean into it” during the third annual Leading Equity, Diversity, and Justice (Leading EDJ) Conference, held February 23-24.

“I know there will also be moments of love and grace, of courage and compassion,” she added. “I ask that we lean into those moments as well.”

This year’s Leading EDJ Conference welcomed over 370 participants for roughly 30 sessions united around the theme of Barriers and Bridges to Access. “The theme reflects the holistic need to evaluate our policies, practices, programs, and this place,” Hinton explained. “We’re asking ourselves: How do we experience Hollins? How do we limit one another’s experience in this place? And most importantly, how can we turn barriers into bridges?”

Vice President for Student Success, Well-being, and Belonging Nakeshia Williams expressed her hope that attendees would come away “with new knowledge and tools, piqued curiosity, heightened self-reflection, increased understanding and compassion, and some very concrete plans for action and change” after “listening, learning, and connecting with one another as we work together to imagine, strategize, and create a more inclusive and equitable Hollins University.”

Hollins President Mary Dana Hinton (left) welcomed keynote speaker Lauren Ridloff to the 2023 Leading EDJ Conference.

Lauren Ridloff, who portrayed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first deaf superhero in the 2021 film Eternals, delivered the event’s keynote address. Ridloff, who is also Hollins’ Distinguished Speaker for Spring 2023, is a former Miss Deaf America who played the lead role of Sarah Norman in the 2018 Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God and was nominated for a Tony Award. She subsequently appeared as Connie on the AMC series The Walking Dead and was honored in 2020 with the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award at the Media Access Awards, which highlight and promote disability and its representation in film, television, and new media.

Born deaf to hearing parents, Ridloff told the conference audience that she grew up signing and speaking at the same time and had years of speech therapy. But by the time she became a teenager, “my parents began to realize that my sense of identity, my cultural pride as a deaf person, wasn’t strong. My mother is a proud, Black, female artist and my father is a strong, proud, Mexican musician, and they knew the importance of having that sense of belonging and understanding of cultural pride. They saw I needed to be around more people who were like me.”

Local resident Jordan Bell presented “Gainsboro Revisited,” which explored the history of the African American people in Roanoke’s Gainsboro community.

In what she called a life-changing event, Ridloff spent two weeks at a sleepaway camp for deaf teens. “For the first time, I was free to express myself in my most native, natural language, which was sign language. This was the first time I didn’t have to choose my words carefully and I didn’t have to modulate my intentions to fit my speaking ability.”

Returning home, “that was when I truly came out, so to speak, to my family as this proud deaf woman who chose not to use her voice. I chose to use my hands. Now, I think, ‘Wow, that was a brave and radical thing for a young woman to do.’ I didn’t have any idea of how it would turn out, but I had to be true to myself.”

Over the next 30 years, Ridloff completed her education, embarked on a teaching career, and got married. “I found my joy and purpose,” she said. When she was approached to serve as a consultant to director Kenny Leon as he prepared the Children of a Lesser God revival, she jumped at the opportunity to share her advice and experience with the production and had no illusions of becoming an actor. However, another pivotal life moment occurred when she was asked to participate in a table read of the play.

Assistant Professor of Theatre Wendy-Marie Martin gave students an overview of theatre for social change and how it functions.

“I would have to use my voice, and my feelings, my body turned upside down. Was I bending my principles of who I am as a person by using my voice? It was such a vulnerable moment for me, and I was terrified.

“But then I realized: What I’m doing is helping make a story happen again on stage, and that story is important. And I thought, ‘Other deaf actors would be able to take on that role and tell the story of Sarah.’ We started the table read and got to the scene where Sarah, who had refused to use her voice up until that point in the story, screams her words. And I just screamed. It didn’t matter if people understood me, it was about the feeling, the intention. And I think in that moment in that room, I found my voice. I learned how to push for storytelling that impacts change.”

When ultimately she was asked to actually play Sarah, Ridloff said she “couldn’t stop thinking about the irony of that. Here I was on stage, night after night, yelling words to the audience. Some people might have understood them, some may have not, but I claimed my power. And I screamed: ‘This is my perfect voice. This is exactly how I want to convey myself.’ Somehow, through the magic of storytelling, the audience found a connection with me. That’s when thought that maybe I could pursue acting.”

Mackenzie Rose M.A. ’14 led a session on defining and combating the stigma of trauma in educational environments.

Ridloff landed her role in The Walking Dead a couple of weeks after her Broadway run ended, and it was during the series that she was approached about playing Makkari in Eternals. While both experiences were exciting, she nevertheless at times felt fear and frustration. As a deaf actress she had needs ranging from the appropriate number of interpreters to how to get cues from the director when she had her back to the camera. Yet, “I didn’t want to ask for too much. I was so grateful to work with these amazing, seasoned stars and I didn’t want to cause trouble. I just wanted to prove that working with a deaf actor is easy. To deliver the best work they could, other actors did not hesitate to ask for the things they needed, so I finally had to admit I had some challenges as a deaf actor. I had to advocate for myself.”

Currently, Ridloff is preparing to star in a new show for Starz in which she also serves as executive producer along with filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time, When They See Us) and actor and costar Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek, Fringe, The Affair). “I finally have a seat at that table in Hollywood where the important decisions are being made. I am so happy to open more doors for deaf talent. This show will include deaf actors and writers, which means authentic representation is happening not just in front of the camera but also behind it where the story is being created.”

When Ridloff looks back, she is “so glad I found my voice at that table read. I found a way to fight, and this is how I fight: by telling stories that mean something. By telling stories that make connections. I am ringing that bell, making sure stories are heard.”


Distinguished Speaker Series Welcomes Beth Macy, Nov. 15

Critically acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author Beth Macy will speak in the Hollins Theatre on Tuesday, November 15, at 7 p.m. Admission is free, but in accordance with Hollins’ Culture of Care guidelines for COVID-19, masks are required for all attendees.

A 1993 graduate of Hollins’ Master of Arts program in English and creative writing, Macy is a longtime reporter whose books include Factory Man, Truevine, and Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America. Her latest book is 2022’s Raising Lazarus: The Search for Hope and Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis. Her recognition includes a Lukas Prize for Factory Man, multiple shortlist and best-book-of-the-year honors for Truevine, and a Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard University for her newspaper writing. A frequent speaker, teacher, and essayist, she has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, O: The Oprah Magazine, Parade, and The Wall Street Journal.

As part of her lecture, two Hollins student journalists will engage in conversation with Macy about her work, her writing craft, and Hollins.

Following the presentation, a reception for Macy will be held in the Wyndham Robertson Library’s Lewis Reading Room. Raising Lazarus will be on sale at the reception, and Macy will be signing copies. Preregistration and proof of vaccination are required to attend the reception in person for those who are not current Hollins students, faculty, or staff.

The lecture will also be livestreamed at the Beth Macy Distinguished Speaker Series webpage. Or, you can access the livestream by contacting Rachel Fletcher at fletcherrc1@hollins.edu.

Macy’s appearance is sponsored by Hollins University’s Distinguished Speaker Series, which is made possible by an endowed fund underwritten by an anonymous alumna.

AAC&U President Visits Hollins to Stress the Enduring Power of the Liberal Arts

In 2020, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) released a new blueprint for the future of higher education.

What Liberal Education Looks Like focuses on restoring public confidence in liberal education and inclusive excellence and refuting claims that higher education in general, and liberal education in particular, are irrelevant. It’s also a collective call to action to uphold the considerable potential of colleges and universities.

“This work is urgent,” said Lynn Pasquerella, AAC&U president. “Talk of higher education as a public good and of investing in society through education has been replaced by talk of return on investment – tuition in exchange for jobs. Skeptics deride the arts and humanities as elitist, and we need to be vigilant in rebutting those charges and recognizing them for what they are: Collusion in the growth of an intellectual oligarchy, in which only the richest and most prestigious institutions preserve access to the liberal arts traditions.”

Pasquerella recently shared her passion for “the public purpose of higher education” with Hollins faculty, staff, and the Board of Trustees as the university embarks on creating a new five-year strategic plan. “I’ve been committed to promoting access to excellence in higher education regardless of socioeconomic background, to championing the centrality of liberal education, and to defending political scientist Benjamin Barber’s notion of colleges and universities as civic missions where we not only educate people to be free, but we free them to be educable, thus serving as a visible force in the lives of those who have been most marginalized in our society.”

Those who claim a liberal education and preparation for work, citizenship, and life are mutually exclusive are creating “a false dichotomy,” Pasquerella said. “We need to highlight the fact that in a global knowledge economy, demand for graduates with a liberal education is growing.”

Pasquerella cited the AAC&U’s 2020 research, How College Contributes to Workforce Success: What Matters Most, in which nearly 500 executives and hiring managers were surveyed. The study found that confidence in higher education and the value of a degree remains fairly strong: Sixty-seven percent of employers have a good deal or quite a lot of confidence in higher education (compared to 63% in 2018), and almost nine in 10 (87%) believe that a college degree or credential is definitely or probably worth the time and financial investments.

“Perhaps most importantly, employers regard liberal education as providing the knowledge and skills for long-term career success in the 21st century,” Pasquerella noted. “Nine in 10 employers believe it is important to achieve the learning outcomes that define a contemporary liberal education, and they urge new efforts to help students acquire those. At least half of employers think it’s very important for college students to possess a range of mindsets and aptitudes to be successful, including a solid work ethic, ability to take initiative, self-confidence, persistence, self-awareness, empathy, and curiosity for lifelong learning.”

Pasquerella added that AAC&U’s research showed active and applied educational experiences can have a positive impact on students by improving their engagement and deepening their learning, which in turn can positively impact hiring decisions. These include first-year seminars, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative projects, undergraduate research, internships, community-based learning, capstone courses, and engagement with educational mentors in and out of the classroom.

At the same time, Pasquerella said, “Student learning assessments must support student success, with guiderails to keep all students on track rather than hurdles that only some students can clear. Inclusive excellence is not a process that isolates students or promotes competition among them. Rather, it’s a collaborative process that takes aim at educational disparities and patterns or systemic disadvantage. Colleges and universities must demonstrate that our success is inextricably linked to the psychological, social, educational, and economic well-being of those we serve.”

Pasquerella asserted that “a 21st century liberal arts education mandates the acceleration of high-impact opportunities that engage students in solving real-world problems within the context of the workforce. It adopts a holistic approach to evidence-based problem solving that incorporates diverse points of view. The curriculum’s emphasis should be on learning outcomes, knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, intellectual and practical skills, personal and social responsibility, and integrative and applied learning as necessary for students’ intellectual, civic, personal, and professional development, and for success in a global economy.”

Asking arts and humanities advocates “to step outside of our echo chambers and use whatever modes of engagement are available to connect the work the academy is doing with people’s lives,” Pasquerella endorsed “leveraging popular culture to promote humanistic understanding. We must recognize more expansive forms of literature and art as the key to survival of the humanities. If we continue to relinquish the opportunities that would extend our reach, public discourse will continue to decline, and academicians will continue to lose the chance to engender a true sense of wonder. In fact, if academics rely exclusively on the mechanisms of arcane study to get out our message, scholarly pursuits as anything more than an ossified repository of ancient curiosity will die.”

Pasquerella concluded with a plea to collectively reaffirm how a liberal education sees the world as a set of interdependent yet inequitable systems, expands knowledge of human interactions, privilege, and stratification, and fosters equity and justice locally and globally. She recalled the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington: “We’re now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. This is no time for apathy and complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

King’s lesson “is more critical than ever,” Pasquerella said. “We need to illuminate the transformative power of the arts and humanities. At the same time, we need to recognize that higher education and its graduates must play a leadership role in fulfilling the promise of liberal education, ensuring that all students are positioned to find their best and most authentic selves.”

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.