As a part of the Catalyst for Change Distinguished Speaker Series, the National Civil Rights Museum will host a conversation with Dr. Alan Curtis on Thursday, January 10, at 6pm. Curtis’ message, “The Kerner Fiftieth” will examine the state of the nation 50 years since the Kerner Commission’s report in 1968 on racial and socioeconomic disparities in the U.S.
Curtis is the founding president and CEO of the Eisenhower Foundation in Washington, DC, a private section continuation of the Kerner Commission and the Violence Commission. He has had a long history of delving into policies effecting racism and poverty. As a teenager, he was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s call-to-action “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In college, he marched in civil rights campaigns, and took a break from graduate school to work on a national violence commission after the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Jr.
The 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (known as the Kerner Commission for its chairman Otto Kerner) responded to the urban protests throughout the U.S., and it concluded that America was heading toward “two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” The 2018 Fifty Year Update of the Commission concludes that the nation has made relatively little progress in reducing poverty, inequality and racial injustice since 1968. It identifies the need for evidence-based policy and the creation of new will among the American people to carry out that policy.
The Eisenhower Foundation puts its policy research into action through a Quantum Opportunities Program aimed at high school students to offer tutoring, mentoring, life skills training and modest financial support to generate positive educational outcomes and decrease delinquent behavior. Participants in the evaluation of the program showed significantly higher grades, graduation rates, college admission rates and college retention rates.
With Fred Harris, the lone surviving member of the original Kerner Commission, Curtis has co-edited the book, Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years after the Kerner Report. The new report presents evidence of proven policies around education, employment, housing and urban development and criminal justice. The book recently received the extraordinary recognition, Choice Magazine’s Outstanding Academic Titles, an exclusive list of the best sources reviewed in the previous year. The list is highly regarded in the academic community, used by librarians to identify the most innovative and valuable titles for collection.
Curtis served as Executive Director of President Jimmy Carter’s interagency Urban Policy Group and as Urban Policy Advisor to HUD Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, the first African-American woman to be appointed a Cabinet Secretary. Earlier, he served as a Task Force Co-Director on President Lyndon Johnson’s National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, formed after the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard, a master’s in economics from the University of London and a PhD in criminology and urban policy from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Catalyst for Change Speaker Series is free and open to the public. For more information, visit civilrightsmuseum.org