Martin Luther King III will headline MLK Celebration Week at VCU

Martin Luther King III will provide keynote remarks Jan. 17 as part of VCU’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.

Human rights advocate, community activist and political leader Martin Luther King III will provide keynote remarks Jan. 17 as part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.

King’s keynote, which will be held at 7 p.m. in the University Student Commons, Commonwealth Ballroom, will be moderated by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. The event is free and open to the public. Guests can RSVP at go.vcu.edu/mlk3keynote.

King serves as an ambassador of his parents’ legacy of nonviolent social change. A graduate of his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College, King has devoted his life to working in the nonprofit sector to promote civil rights and global human rights and to eradicate the “triple evils” of racism, militarism and poverty his father identified as the scourges of humankind.

As the elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization co-founded by his father, King reinvigorated SCLC by stabilizing its governance, program and development components. As founder and president of Realizing the Dream, Inc., he has taken his father’s message to a global audience, spearheading nonviolence training in Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Israel and Palestine, Kenya, Sri Lanka and the United States.

VCU’s MLK Celebration Week was established in 2014 to honor and raise awareness of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through VCU and Richmond community-wide educational programs that commemorate his distinguished contributions, leadership, spirit of service and dedication to nonviolence and justice. MLK Celebration Week is scheduled for Jan. 15 to Jan. 21 and is sponsored by VCU’s Division for Inclusive Excellence.

The week’s theme, “50 years later: Don’t sleep on the dream,” commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Program and event attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about King’s lasting legacy and engage in making their community a better place for all. Learn more at mlkday.vcu.edu.

It takes a village: Community partners help VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter give back to the city

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Every September, during Hunger Action Month, Virginia Commonwealth University Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter hosts the Alumni Charity Challenge, sponsored in part by Nationwide and Virginia Credit Union. The event brings together alumni chapters from 30 universities in Virginia as well as several out-of-state institutions who compete to donate the most canned goods FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank and get their school’s name on a challenge trophy.

“One in 7 of our neighbors is struggling to put food on the table, and 1 in 6 children in our region aren’t receiving necessary nutrition,” says Tim McDermott (M.P.A.’82/GPA), chief development officer at FeedMore. “Events like the charity challenge help raise awareness and validate VCU’s continued investment in the Richmond community.”

With the help of sponsors, the event provides food trucks, giveaways and more when the participating alumni groups gather at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia, to see which school’s graduates donate the most canned goods by weight.

“[Nationwide is] proud to sponsor the Alumni Charity Challenge because it gives us the opportunity to support the Central Virginia community and many of our alumni affinity partners, but it’s also at the core of what we’re all about,” says Ann Ritterspach, associate vice president of affinity solutions at Nationwide. “Supporting this basic need that affects so many is why Nationwide is proud to lend its support.”

Angela Roisten, membership development director at Virginia Credit Union, echoes the sentiment.

“We’re proud of our great relationship with VCU students, faculty and staff, and we’re glad our relationship with many students continues post-graduation,” she says. “[VACU is] happy to participate in the Alumni Charity Challenge because it encourages alumni to give back, raises awareness and contributes significantly to the fight against hunger in Central Virginia in such a meaningful way.”

Since the first event in 2013, the Alumni Charity Challenge has collected more than 16 tons of food that has benefited 200,000 children, families and seniors in 34 cities and counties across Central Virginia. In addition, a portion of beer sales at the event are donated to the FRIENDS Association of Richmond, which provides child care, developmental skills and family support services to children and families in the area.

This year, the Alumni Charity Challenge raised a record 48,335 pounds of food for the Richmond community, more than double FeedMore’s goal of collecting 20,000 pounds.

“I think that every single [VCU alumnus] wants to make the world a better place,” says Joseph Stemmle (B.S.’13/B), director of volunteering for the RVA GOLD Chapter. “It doesn’t take an organization like the RVA GOLD Chapter to make that happen. Find a cause you love and go make that change happen.”

VCU’s new La Esperanza Lab to study health disparities, impact of immigration policy on Richmond’s Latinx population

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Growing up in Arizona as the son of Mexican immigrants, Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D., saw firsthand how the United States’ immigration policies could affect Latinx communities.

Now, as a new faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, Moreno is gearing up to study how policies — including access to health care, immigration restrictions and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — are affecting Latinx students at VCU, as well as the growing Hispanic population of the Richmond region.

“The reason why I do this is because I feel heavily involved with these communities. I come from a Latin community myself. I was raised in Phoenix, the hub of immigration policies [that were characterized by] discrimination constructs, prejudice and institutional biases,” said Moreno, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Now all that’s on a national platform, impacting communities like Richmond.”

Moreno’s La Esperanza Lab (“esperanza” is Spanish for “hope”) at VCU aims to understand and address health care disparities in the United States that affect individuals from low-income and racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

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VCU launches newly expanded pre-accelerator program, called VCU Pre-X, to better support student innovators and entrepreneurs

Hilton Bennett (B.S.’16/En; Cert.’16/B), then a senior engineering student and now a Master of Product Innovation student at VCU, pitches a business idea last fall to VCU’s pre-accelerator program. Bennett’s idea was centered around an invention he designed to allow mountain climbers to practice indoors.

The da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University is looking for entrepreneurial and innovative students, as well as mentors from the Richmond area’s business community, to take part in a newly expanded and revamped pre-accelerator program that helps VCU students turn their promising ideas into viable startup companies.

VCU’s pre-accelerator program launched in 2015 to identify, support and launch high-growth and high-potential startups and student founders. Over four cohorts, the program’s teams raised more than $2 million in investment and revenue, and three student-run companies went on to be accepted into Lighthouse Labs, the Richmond region’s startup accelerator program.

Now called VCU Pre-X, the pre-accelerator program has shifted to a new model in which all VCU students who meet the minimum requirements will be able to access the program’s curriculum, tools and mentorship. As they progress through the program, participants will have to meet benchmarks and compete with one another for funding.

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VCU recognizes veterans

Timothy P. Williams, adjunct general of Virginia, provides remarks at Friday’s event.

Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated military veterans Friday at a Veterans Appreciation Reception held at the Commons Theater.

The event, which doubled as the launch of the VCU Military Veterans Alumni Council, featured remarks from Saif Khan (B.A.’07/H&S), an Iraq War veteran and a graduate of the College of Humanities and Sciences; Timothy P. Williams, adjunct general of Virginia, who commands the Virginia Army National Guard, Virginia Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force; Stephen Ross, director of VCU Military Student Services; and Dan-Viggo Bergtun, president of the World Veterans Federation.

Khan is the first president of the VCU Military Veterans Alumni Council, which offers an opportunity for VCU alumni to connect with one another and the current student body through their shared bond of military service.

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Snap and share: Take Rodney with you

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Here’s your chance to take Rodney the Ram with you! Snap a picture with Rodney wherever you go … on vacation, at work or at the grocery store. Then share it on Instagram or Twitter with #flatrodney. Don’t forget to wear your black-and-gold gear to show your school spirit.

Download Rodney, print and cut him out and take him with you today. We can’t wait to see all the places Rodney goes!

School of Business graduate’s foundation helps communities realize their full potential

Sean Powell, a 2011 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business, founded Engage, the Foundation the same year.

Sean Powell (B.S.’11/B) sees family beyond family.

Powell’s mother began fostering children when he was 10 years old. Interacting with his foster siblings — who battled disabilities and misfortune — awakened in Powell a sense of social responsibility. He didn’t know it then, but this led him to find his passion in life: helping others discover their passions.

Powell champions the concepts of community, fellowship, brotherhood and mentorship — the idea of sticking together and experiencing life’s hardships and celebrations, and passing down new information and values along the way.

“If people around me need something to develop or grow, I always make it my effort to provide them access to the resources they need,” he said. “If I can’t provide that personally, then I’ll look into my network to see who I can connect them with so they can reach their goals.”

Powell, a graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, founded Engage, the Foundation in 2011. The community-based organization connects college students to their communities, and encourages them to work with families and kids on campus and in the neighborhood. Two of its main goals are developing successive generations who understand their purpose and identity, and reducing the costs of government assistance needed by unstable families. Engage has spurred growth in communities by holding fundraisers, development programs, workforce programs and other special events.

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Medical school alumna is a voice for all children

Colleen Kraft, M.D.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then Colleen Kraft, M.D. (M.D.’86/M; H.S.’89/M), might say it takes a pediatrician who knows that village to heal one.

Kraft, who earned her medical degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in 1986, believes spending time in the community is what opened her eyes to the daily issues and concerns facing the children and families she cared for in the office. Nothing, Kraft says, can replace the education you receive when you observe a child’s everyday environment. Some of her greatest insights came during conversations at the park, visits to the local library, school nurse’s office, daycare centers and church nurseries.

“Kids spend 15 minutes in the [doctor’s] office but they live in the community,” she said. “Your investment in the community is what really makes a difference.”

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VCU’s ‘changemaker in residence’ launches campaign urging people working to alleviate poverty to promise to be ‘sidekicks’

Master of Product Innovation students in VCU’s da Vinci Center take part in the Sidekick Manifesto social media campaign.

While visiting Honduras a few years ago as part of his work running a global development nonprofit, Shawn Humphrey, Ph.D., (M.A.’96/B) snapped a photo of a woman carrying water on her head, thinking the image would be perfect for his organization’s website.

The woman got angry. And, Humphrey realized, she had every right to be.

“It’s kind of a development trope. You see images like this on almost every nonprofit’s website. But I had taken her picture without permission, and she was understandably upset,” he said. “It made me ashamed that I did that. I didn’t use the photo, but essentially I stole her image. And, if she hadn’t said anything, I would have used it as part of [our organization’s] narrative or posted it on our website to try to raise awareness and funds for our work in Honduras.”

The humbling process of realizing he acted unethically prompted Humphrey to write what he calls the Sidekick Manifesto, a promise to support — and not attempt to lead — the efforts to alleviate poverty in communities around the world.

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‘Richmond Potluck’ benefits Puerto Rico hurricane victims

Steven Casanova’s exhibit, “The Richmond Cookbook,” at the Anderson.

A Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts alumnus has quickly turned his existing exhibition at the Anderson into a benefit for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month.

VCUarts will host Steven Casanova’s (B.F.A.’15/A) “Richmond Potluck” on Friday, Oct. 6, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Anderson, 907 1/2 W. Franklin St. Casanova is one of six recent alumni featured in the “Reach Out and Touch” exhibition, on view at the Anderson through Oct. 8.

Casanova’s work, “The Richmond Cookbook,” is a submission-based citywide cookbook showing the diversity in culture and background through Richmond, while contrasting living situations and food access throughout the city.

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