Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 9 - Special Events
Celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Stetson University’s Howard Thurman Program
Stetson University

Award of Distinction
Judges' Award

Research/Situation Analysis: The Howard Thurman Program at Stetson University, honoring a man who mentored leaders of the American civil rights movement, has transformed Stetson and its larger community over the past 10 years. The program works to unite people in a search for solutions to social, religious and ethnic problems. Launched in 1996 and directed by the Rev. Jefferson P. Rogers, the cornerstone of the program is an annual lecture series featuring world-class speakers who were leaders in the civil rights movement or activists, authors or scholars working on similar issues today. Before each lecture, dozens of invited community leaders – educators, pastors and leaders of community programs – join with faculty, students and staff to share a meal, talk about our community and focus on the Thurman Program lectures. Many of the guests are from DeLand’s historically African American Spring Hill community, where students, faculty and staff are involved in tutoring, youth empowerment projects and business and money management workshops. The program brings them together at Stetson. Through 10 years of Thurman Lectures, members of the campus community have come to understand the social, economic and political effects of slavery and white privilege. According to Stetson President Doug Lee, this was a catalyst for a campus-wide grassroots outreach to the economically disadvantaged in the nearby town of Pierson and the Spring Hill community.

Objectives: Through the 10-year anniversary celebration of the Howard Thurman Program, we sought to (1) showcase the program’s success and legacy, (2) secure plans to create a documentary honoring Rogers and Thurman, (3) celebrate Stetson’s commitment and involvement in the greater community and provide the inspiration to work to solve racial problems.

Implementation: Preparations began in January 2006 with a committee from a broad section of the university. Public Relations explored coverage opportunities with local and major media, including Black PR Newswire, to provide advance coverage of the event, and worked with University Media Services to add Web pages to the university’s Thurman site, which incorporated video links, speaker names and stories. Printed materials included coordinating publications for the actual event: invitations; posters; a program insert of the two-day event; a four-color shell distributed both as an event keepsake and mailed with information after the event; and articles written for the spring 2006 issue of the Stetson University magazine. The celebration was a two-day event titled “Transformations—The Power of Howard Thurman.” “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” on April 17, 2006, featured a rough-cut preview of a documentary by anthropologist and filmmaker John L. Jackson Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania and discussion about his research project on Thurman, Rogers and Stetson’s Thurman Program; and reflections on the program by students and officials. Approximately 100 persons attended. On April 18, 250 university and community members heard performances of Thurman’s meditations and jazz music by Marvin Chandler, Everett Greene, Frank Smith and Kenny Phelps. In his remarks, President Lee paid tribute to Rogers’ vision for the program and reflected on the program’s community impact. Chandler and special guests, including dinner and lecture attendees who provide the backbone of the community portion of the Thurman Program, approximately 75 in all, were honored at an invitation-only dinner at the President’s House. The Spring Hill Boys and Girls Club Chorus provided the evening’s entertainment.

Evaluation: (1) The two-day program successfully marked the 10th anniversary of the Howard Thurman Program with an approximate 50 percent increase in attendance per commemorative event. There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the visual materials showcasing the inception of the program, its history and photos of more than 60 world-class Thurman Lecturers, which increased awareness of the changes taking place within the university and greater communities. Participation of the Spring Hill Boys and Girls Club reinforced the partnership that the Stetson and Spring Hill communities are fostering. Local media coverage of the subsequent lectures revealed that attendance has increased for the lecture series, up to 200 guests per event. Guests and attendees wrote letters of appreciation with comments about the events and the influence that Stetson University has in the community. (2) A documentary by professional filmmaker John Jackson Jr. is in progress. (3) Due to the increased awareness brought about by the lecturers of the Thurman Program, campus outreach is evidenced by additional media coverage of the events as well as the grassroots efforts of Stetson students, faculty and staff in the Spring Hill and Pierson communities. Interviews with students, faculty and staff reveal an increase in volunteerism and an ever-growing commitment to the vision of service and advocacy for the community. Faculty members facilitate community projects and students participate in CAUSE (Campaign for Adolescent and University Student Empowerment) and YAR (Youth as Resources), both student-driven, as well as Greek philanthropic or social justice-centered activities. For instance, Stetson’s CAUSE members were honored as a select group by the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in February 2006 for their positive impact in Spring Hill. Stetson has an ongoing partnership with the Bonner Foundation, which supports a network of more than 50 colleges and universities committed to quality service. In 2005, Stetson had 19 Bonner Leaders and, since then, the partnership has blossomed into an expanded relationship, with Stetson being named a Bonner Scholar institution, and the Foundation is ready to provide approximately 60 scholarships next year, an increase from the current level of 31 Bonner Leaders.

Budget: Many internal resources were used, including staff time, for planning and implementation. In-house print and Web publications design, media contacts and other planning totaled about 500 staff hours. Other costs: outside audio visual recording and photography, $1,785; honoraria and travel for Marvin Chandler and associates, $6,614; dinner, $752; printing and advertising, $1,178; and flowers and other miscellaneous costs, $900.