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New London NAACP hosts Harvard student body president at upcoming Zoom event

New London — Noah Harris, the first Black man to be elected president of Harvard University's student body and the author of a children's book called "Successville," will be the guest speaker at a virtual discussion Thursday, Dec. 17, on race, diversity and inclusion hosted by the NAACP's New London Branch.

A Zoom link for the 5 p.m. event will be published on the branch's Facebook page at facebook.com/nlnaacp2010.

Harris, 20, a junior from Hattiesburg, Miss., will be interviewed by branch President Jean Jordan and take part in a panel discussion moderated by Aram deKoven, chief diversity officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Panelists include John McKnight Jr., dean of institutional equity and inclusion at Connecticut College, and New London City Councilor Curtis K. Goodwin.

The event is free, but the NAACP branch is hoping participants will donate money to purchase copies of Harris' book for students of New London Public Schools. "Successville" is a story about Mrs. Jones, a second grade teacher who gets wonderful results from inspiring her students to aim higher. The suggested donation is $25.

Tamara Lanier, NAACP branch vice president, likens Harris to "the next Barack Obama," and said she's hoping the New London students can use his book as a blueprint to carve out their own hopes and dreams.

Lanier is suing Harvard and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology over the university's refusal to turn over 1850 images of a man named Congo "Papa" Renty and his daughter, Delia, both slaves in South Carolina. Lanier is a direct descendant of Renty and Delia and contends the university is shamelessly profiting from the images. Renty and Delia were stripped naked and forced to pose for the daguerreotype images commissioned by Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz, who was trying to prove that Black people are biologically inferior.

Harris orchestrated the student body's vote in September to condemn Harvard for possessing the images. Lanier said she has spoken to him by phone but hasn't yet met him in person.

"We want to talk about diversity and inclusion, particularly in the wake of this George Floyd moment," she said, referring to the national protests and conversations that took place over the summer when the public watched video of Floyd, a Black man, losing consciousness and dying after he repeatedly told a white officer who leaned on his neck, "I can't breathe."

Lanier said she expects that deKoven, McKnight and Goodwin, who are among the region's "go-to people" for this type of conversation, will have a lively discussion. One of the topics she hopes they'll discuss is a personal pet peeve.

"We keep hearing, 'the first Black male student body president,' or 'the first Black woman vice president,'" she said. "Here we are, almost in 2021, and we're still amazed, that we have yet to crack so many glass ceilings and break down the barriers that are still precluding people of color from having access."

k.florin@theday.com

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