Charles Ogletree has a vision for the Black Lives Matter movement, the youth of our country and even a vision for how to change the conditions of generational poverty featured on HBO’s The Wire. Ogletree, an activist and prominent Harvard law professor, will visit Eugene on Nov. 12 to give speeches on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I want to make people understand — you can see all the galas and awards I’ve accomplished, but I’m still just a kid from California that had an opportunity to finish college,” he tells EW. “My mission is to make sure the next generation of young people understand they are the leaders and they can make a difference.”
Ogletree has taught at Harvard since 1985, specializing in race and justice issues. Somewhat of a celebrity, this charismatic attorney-turned-professor has made public appearances on many national media outlets to talk about issues of race, such as the Today Show, Frontline, Meet the Press and Good Morning America.
He is also known for his long-time friendship with President Barack Obama, whom he taught when Obama was in law school at Harvard.
Most of Ogletree’s goal while he is in Oregon is to raise publicity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement, a revolution he compares to the non-violent Black Panther movement and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I’m aging out of the movement. It reminds me of what I was doing in high school and college and even law school — how important it is to have a different voice to go against the system in many respects,” he says.
One of the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement is the high incarceration rates of black people, and Ogletree’s visit to Oregon coincides with a recent push by Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice to release thousands of nonviolent drug offenders from federal prisons to lessen overcrowding and cost. The U.S. Sentencing Commission last year made across-the-board changes to federal drug penalties, significantly lowering the prison time for some drug offenses.
Between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, the DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons freed about 6,000 prisoners. Ogletree has worked at Harvard for years to support legislation like the recent Department of Justice decision.
“Too many people are in jail. Too many black people are in jail,” he says. “They need to work, get an education, have a family and not spend their time incarcerated.”
Ogletree, who lived in Eugene from 2000 to 2001 as the Wayne Morse Chair of Law and Politics, is also returning to town to celebrate the retirement of Margaret Hallock, the co-director of the Wayne Morse Center at the UO. Hallock says she picked Ogletree because he was such an exceptional teacher during his time as the chair in 2000.
“He is a remarkable person who has a very progressive reform agenda and he is able to facilitate conversations across entire communities,” she says. “He had a profound impact on many of us here in the community.”
Ogletree speaks at noon Thursday, Nov. 12, at Giustina Ballroom, Ford Alumni Center on campus. The event is free, but participants must pre-register on the Wayne Morse Center website. Livestreaming of the Eugene event will be available at waynemorsecenter.uoregon.edu.