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Majora Carter Speaks on Building Community – News

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February 02, 2023

Urban revitalization strategist delivers 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembrance Celebration and Keynote Lecture

On Jan. 25, the Carnegie Mellon community came together for the 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance Celebration and Keynote Lecture featuring Majora Carter, a MacArthur Fellow, Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, real estate developer and urban revitalization strategy consultant. Hosted by the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, the event filled the Cohon University Center’s Rangos Ballroom with students, faculty and staff interested in hearing about Carter’s career in urban revitalization, particularly in the South Bronx of her New York hometown.

In discussing her approach to uplifting communities, Carter shared, “It really is about creating a beautiful place that people feel good about being in so they want to reinvest (in the community) not just economically, but socially and spiritually.” She spoke about what people want to see in their own communities saying, “It needs to have the kind of commercial spaces that make you feel good about being in them.”

Before Carter took the stage, Vice Provost for Diversity Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Wanda Heading-Grant welcomed the audience and introduced student performer Ricky L. Owens Jr. (pictured singing), a master’s student in the School of Music, who sang the Black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Heading-Grant and guest Evelyn Kwanza then performed a medley of spoken word and songs paying tribute to King’s life and legacy. Both performances received standing ovations. “My heart is full from the excitement, enthusiasm and unity that I felt from our community,” said Heading-Grant.

Wanda Heading-Grant and Farnam JahanianPresident Farnam Jahanian (pictured with Heading-Grant) then reflected on CMU’s work in relation to Carter’s experiences in urban revitalization saying, “As a research university, driving many of these innovations and advances, it is a pivotal moment for our community to lead by example. We can’t simply turn out innovations and advances and knowledge to benefit society that only makes life better for some people. We must intentionally and collectively work to fuel shared prosperity and create economic opportunities for all citizens.”

Throughout her keynote, Carter shared stories about impactful projects she has led, ending on a reflective note. “Dr. King was talking about racial injustice. He was also talking about economic injustice … I share that because I really do believe that we are at a point in our lives where we’ve seen what the status quo does to communities, just to the low-status communities,” said Carter. “We can be done with building tributes to all of our collective failures when we instead could literally be building the monuments to hope and possibility. That’s to show that we don’t have to move out of our neighborhood to live in a better one. And I believe that so fiercely I did write a book about it.”

Sossena Wood hugs Majora CarterThe event concluded with a Q&A session led by Sossena Wood (pictured hugging Carter), an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Neuroscience Institute. Carter addressed the audience’s questions about what the future of the South Bronx might look like, the role of identity in navigating the real estate industry and Carter’s thoughts on the nonprofit industry’s complicated role in revitalization efforts.

Carter is quoted on the walls of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture: “Nobody should have to move out of their neighborhood to live in a better one,” which is also the subtitle of her 2022 book, “Reclaiming Your Community.”

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