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‘Arts ‘N Culture and the African American Influence’: Steward Speakers Series announces 2022-23 schedule

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The 36th annual Steward Speakers Series is set to kick off its 2022-23 season next month.

The not-for-profit educational lecture series, founded by current president Matthew Steward in 1986, is known for bringing nationally known African American speakers and influential figures — such as Viola Davis, Steve Harvey, Magic Johnson, Harry Belafonte, Common and more — to Indianapolis.

The Steward Speakers Series typically follows an academic school year, beginning in the fall and hosting several talks or events through the season, Steward said. When speakers are brought to Indianapolis for the series, Steward said they participate in a community lecture as well as hosting a workshop at a local school.

“We like to make sure we impact schools as part of our lecture series,” he said. “We try to make sure that the events are at least known to the public and they have an opportunity to at least be exposed to some of the information the speakers are talking about.”

The series relies on sponsors such as IUPUI, Wabash College and Lilly Endowment.

Vernon Williams, communication and community engagement strategist for IUPUI, said the series has a unique way of bringing global issues down to the local level.

“It so aligns with the university’s community outreach effort,” Williams said, “as well as the university’s commitment to forwarding conversations and being part of platforms that speak to quality of life and issues that relate to our community as a whole and specifically to the community of color.”

The theme of this year’s series, “Arts ‘N Culture and the African American Influence,” follows the organization’s goals of uplifting the local community by placing a spotlight on African American influences and contributions to society in the form of art and cultural expressions, said Kimberly Bostic, board chair and managing director for the series.

“I would say the goal of Steward Speakers Series is to inspire and invoke meaningful dialogue within the community by bringing nationally known speakers to this city,” Bostic said. “They’re talking about issues that, while they have a sometimes global or national focus, there’s typically a local impact.”

Kicking off the season Oct. 6 is a one-person play featuring Mzuri Moyo Aimbaye entitled “The Fannie Lou Hamer Story.” The play follows the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, a women’s and voting rights activist who co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in addition to helping organize Freedom Summer in the 1960s.

The Fannie Lou Hamer Story” will take place at the Pike Performing Arts Center, 6701 Zionsville Road. The VIP reception will begin at 6 p.m. in the foyer followed by the play from 7-8:30 p.m.

VIP tickets are $75, general admission is $40, and student group tickets are $20 each for a group of 10. Tickets and more information about the Steward Speaker Series are available at stewardspearkers.org or by calling the office at 317-297-2905.

With stories such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Bostic said it’s timely to show the importance of having leaders and advocates like her in the community today.

Bostic said the speaker series is unique in what it does, but the work they do is very real and important, especially in times like this where people are noticing that leaders are not displaying the art of debate very well. She said the series gives people the opportunity to enforce the need to listen to all sides to encourage conversation and understand one another.

“I think it’s also encouraging to a lot of the young people that are here trying to do the work but feel resistance,” she said. “It’s not new, it’s something that we have always — our community when I saw ‘we’ — have always had to overcome, and hopefully it’s just something else that will give them that push to keep going.”

Williams said guests should be prepared to come with an open mind and a curious mindset. Most speakers do a Q&A after their lecture, and it provides a great opportunity to not only learn but engage with their community on certain issues.

On Feb. 23, 2023, Steward Speakers Series will host a panel discussion for Black History Month. The panel will feature Dr. Michael Eric Dyson; GANGGANG creators Mali Jeffers and Alan Bacon; artist and activist Ashley Chew, and Patrick Denard Douthit, known professionally as 9th Wonder.

On April 13, 2023, Tony-nominated actress and director Sanaa Lathan will give a lecture for Women’s History Month.

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-924-5143 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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