Arun Gandhi, fifth grandson of Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, was the featured speaker at the Compassionate Niagara Conference March 13.

Over the past several months, Niagara University has welcomed community leaders, scholars, and students to campus to engage in important conversations on issues of compassionate communities, economic equity, children living in poverty, and cross-border relations.

Arun Gandhi, fifth grandson of Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi and co-founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, shared lessons he learned from his grandfather on nonviolence and empowering people who are oppressed at the Compassionate Niagara Conference: Deepening Communities, March 13. Following Gandhi’s keynote address, the 170 attendees discussed ways different sectors could work together to build a more compassionate Niagara Falls and a more inclusive community, where the needs of all are recognized and met, the well-being of the entire community is a priority, and all people and living things are treated with respect.

“Arun’s commitment to nonviolence and to the creation of a sustainable and just world closely mirror the mission of Niagara University,” said the Rev. James Maher, C.M., Niagara University’s president. “It is an honor to welcome him to our campus to foster important conversations around racial justice, and to inspire us to continue this important work in our community.”

In March, the university’s Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission and the College of Business Administration hosted the Race and Economic Equity Summit, which assembled more than 125 people to discuss the indicators of economic growth, the ways they affect marginalized community members, and the barriers and solutions for economic security for these individuals, with a special focus on people of color. 

Keynote speakers Dr. Robert Kallen, visiting professor at DePaul University, and trial attorney James Bobseine of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity, and panelists Ana Hernandez Kent, Ph.D., policy analyst, Center for Household Financial Stability, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Kawanza A. Humphrey, vice president and corporate responsibility officer, Upstate Region; Valerie White, executive vice president, Empire State Development and executive director of the Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development; Terry Melvin, secretary treasurer, New York State AFL-CIO, and international president, Coalition of Black Trade Unionist; Jeffrey Pirrone, project director, Niagara Falls Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, Catholic Charities; and Ezra Scott, member of the Niagara Falls City Council, facilitated conversations focusing on the impact of a racial equity lens in systematically altering the economic security of people of color within corporations and organizations; the direct actions corporations and organizations can implement to impact the development, recruitment, retention, and promotion of employees of color; and the community impact of an intentional race and economic strategic plan. 

Also in March, Niagara University hosted the 2019 “Crossing Borders” interdisciplinary student conference. More than two dozen students from the U.S. and Canada presented their research on issues including human trafficking and poverty in Canada and the U.S.; political influences in federal and provincial governments; shaping policy and public opinion on leadership, sport, and immigration; healthcare; and issues of sovereignty, identity, and trade among the indigenous peoples in the border.

The conference, now in its 23rd year, was established to foster academic relations between students throughout the cross-border region under the aegis of the Golden Horseshoe Educational Alliance, a consortium of universities from both sides of the border. The first conference was held at Niagara University in 1996, and venues alternate each year between host universities in the U.S. and Canada. It has been supported by both the U.S. Consulate General, Toronto, and the Canadian Consulate General, New York, as well as government officials and scholars from both sides of the border.

“Mobilizing the Community to Transform the Lives of Children Living in Poverty,” was the topic of discussion for a summit in January, co-sponsored by the Ostapenko Center, Niagara University’s College of Education, and the Levesque Institute for Civic Engagement.

Approximately 100 people and a dozen community agencies gathered to connect with one another, learn what services are available to children living in poverty, and discuss what else can be done to alleviate economic insecurity in our region.

Dr. Anael Alston, assistant commissioner for the Office of Access, Equity, and Community Engagement Services, gave the keynote address.

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