'Precious' executive producer Lisa Cortes, educator/activist Jonathan Kozol and pioneering news journalist Carole Simpson to speak at MCLA Public Policy Lecture


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will look at a critical set of policy issues from an artistic and an activist perspective through an examination of the Oscar-nominated film, "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," in a Public Policy Lecture on Tuesday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in the MCLA Church Street Center.

The critically acclaimed film "Precious" focuses on an illiterate, horrifically abused young African-American woman who, with very little help, enrolls in an alternative high school to try to turn her life around. Although the film is set in the 1980s, the situations it describes persist.

Lisa CortÚs, the executive producer of "Precious," will join author, educator and activist Jonathan Kozol in a panel discussion moderated by former ABC News journalist Carole Simpson. They will discuss a number of hard, intertwined issues regarding race, class, economic and social oppression, the roles of government and charity in changing these conditions for the better, and more.

Made possible through the generosity of the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust, the event is free and open to the public.

"We are honored to sponsor this panel of experts, moderated by one of America's leading broadcast journalists," said John DeRosa, administrator of the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust. "The subject matter is difficult, but timely and compelling. Education and social justice is an important issue for our community, and I encourage the public to attend."

A veteran of both the film and music industries, CortÚs has worked with such companies as Def Jam Records, Rush Artist Management and Lee Daniels Entertainment. She often identifies and then gives light to expressive voices not often heard and stories not often told.

CortÚs broke into the music industry during the 1980s. Along with label chiefs Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin and Lyor Cohen she helped launch the Def Jam brand, and worked with a roster that included rap pioneers Run DMC, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.

In 1990, she went on to become vice president of artists and repertoire at Mercury/PolyGram Records. After spearheading a number of projects that included Vanessa Williams, Black Sheep and the soundtrack for the Tony award-winning "Jelly's Last Jam," she was awarded her own label, Loose Cannon, a subsidiary of Polygram/Island Records.

Her production credits include "The Woodsman" (2004) and "Shadowboxer" (2006). She also worked on the 2002 film "Monster's Ball" with Daniels and director Marc Forster. A native of Milford, Conn., she spent a good deal of her childhood in Harlem. She is a graduate of Yale University, where she majored in American Studies.

"Precious" won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance in 2009. The film is nominated for six Oscars in the Best Picture, Best Actress (Gabourey Sidibe), Best Supporting Actress (Mo'Nique), Best Adapted Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher), Best Director (Lee Daniels) and Best Editing categories.

Kozol has devoted the last four decades to issues of education and social justice in this country. The Chicago Sun-Times called him "today's most eloquent spokesman for America's disenfranchised."

A best-selling author, his non-fiction books include "Rachel and Her Children," a study of homeless mothers and their children, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for 1989 and the Conscience in Media Award of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and "Savage Inequalities," which won the New England Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  

His bestseller, "Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation," described his visits to the South Bronx of New York, the poorest congressional district of America. Featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and praised by scholars such as Robert Coles and Henry Louis Gates, and children's advocates and theologians all over the nation, "Amazing Grace" received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1996, an honor previously granted to the works of Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King. Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison wrote that "Amazing Grace" was "good in the old-fashioned sense: beautiful and morally worthy."

"The Shame of the Nation," which appeared on The New York Times bestseller list the week that it was published, has since joined "Amazing Grace," "Savage Inequalities," and "Death at an Early Age" as required reading at most universities and as part of the curriculum for future teachers and for professional development in dozens of major urban systems.

In his most recent work, "Letters to a Young Teacher," Kozol draws upon 40 years of experience to guide the newest generation of our nation's teachers into the ethically complicated challenges but, also, "the sheer joy and passionate rewards" of what he calls "a beautiful profession."

After 24 years, Emmy-award winning correspondent and broadcast pioneer Simpson retired from ABC News to become Leader in Residence at Emerson College's School of Communication in Boston. She is a member of the full-time faculty and teaches courses in public affairs reporting, political communication and political coverage. As a Leader at the college, she mentors students and conducts public seminars on issues of importance such as free speech, the importance of an informed electorate, and the qualities necessary for becoming journalists of integrity and excellence. In the meantime she is completing a book on her 40 years in the profession.

At ABC she was the anchor of "World News Tonight Sunday" from 1988-2003 and a senior correspondent. She is the first African-American anchor of a major network evening news broadcast and her reports appeared on "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings," "Good Morning America," "20/20," "Nightline," and numerous ABC special events programs. Simpson joined ABC News from NBC News in 1982.

In 2004, Simpson was named ABC News Ambassador to Schools, a new educational initiative in the nation's public schools. She traveled to 38 high schools in 31 cities all over the nation, where she engaged teenagers in discussions about the value of reading and watching the news, the role of a free press in a democratic society, and the importance of being informed citizens in an American society facing serious challenges at home and abroad. She reached nearly 5,000 teenagers.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Simpson was moderator of the second presidential debate in Richmond, Virginia - the first presidential debate in history to have a town meeting format. She was the first woman and first minority to be sole moderator of a presidential debate. Simpson was also one of the reporters on the critically acclaimed documentary, "Black in White America" and she anchored three hour-long ABC News specials - "The Changing American Family," "Public Schools in Conflict" and "Sex and Violence in Media."

In addition to an Emmy and two DuPont-Columbia Awards, Simpson has won the Milestone in Broadcasting Award from the National Commission on Working Women, the Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Award for Broadcasting Excellence, the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award from the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation and the National Organization of Women Legislators National Media Award.

She recently received the Joseph Medill Distinguished Journalism Award from the Chicago Historical Society, and a Woman of Vision award from the Women in Film and Video. She has been inducted into the University of Iowa Communications Hall of Fame and received the University of Missouri's distinguished journalist award, as well as a Star award from the American Women in Radio and Television.

In 1992 the National Association of Black Journalists named Simpson Journalist of the Year. In 1999, Simpson was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame, and was honored by the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the National Association of Black Journalists for 25 years of excellence in network television broadcasting. In 2005, she was inducted into the NABJ's Hall of Fame.