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Freedom Summer Future Part Of Anniversary Conference

Fifty-five years ago this summer, hundreds of student volunteers trained at Western College in Oxford (now part of Miami University) before heading south for the Mississippi Summer Project to register voters and set up Freedom Schools. Miami University and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center are partnering to mark the 55th anniversary of Freedom Summer with "Freedom 55," a mini conference exploring history and the future.

The two day conference includes discussion about the Freedom Summer movement and eyewitness accounts from participants. It also includes a session with Rena Evers Everette, daughter of civil rights pioneers Medgar and Myrlie Evers, as well as Lisa McNair, sister of Denise McNair, who was killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, who will talk about the events through their eyes.

The conference aims to look forward, too, according to Miami University Professor of Global and Intercultural Studies Rodney Coates. He tasked several students with presenting a panel titled "Freedom Summer Future." They researched problems the African American community faces in today's society, along with possible solutions.

"The idea is for it really to be future focused from students now taking what has happened in the past and what the whole point of the conference is and how we can move into the future," says Lauren Poythress, a senior majoring in psychology and black world studies. "It's, 'How do we put the message behind that movement into what could be done today; if we were to start a new movement with college students making a difference and changing society, what would that look like for us now?' "

The student panel includes a student moderator and each of the three panelists will focus on an area with which they identify.

Poythress, an African American woman from Carmel, Indiana, plans to attend law school after graduation and become an attorney. She prepared for the panel by researching statistics surrounding black female lawyers, challenges they face and how those issues are being addressed.

She was surprised by what she found about minorities in the legal profession in general.

"I knew there was a reason I wanted to be a lawyer and make a difference in my community because I didn't see a lot of lawyers that looked like me, whether that be in television or overall media portrayals, but the actual statistics were in the last nine years, the percentage has stayed the same. I think that surprised me."

Poythress describes her research and preparation for the conference and her studies in general under her mentor, Professor Coates, as being very helpful as she prepares to go into the legal field.

"It helps me realize those problems now so that maybe when I graduate or am in law school I can start to change what I found."

The Freedom Summer Future panel is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2. You can find a full schedule and more information on the conference website.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.