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2015-2016 Speakers: Laverne Cox 9/16, Liz Murray 10/14, John Legend 12/3, Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. 2/11, Siddhartha Mukherjee 4/6, Kevin Spacey 4/27

Photo: Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox

Transgender Advocate and Award-Winning Actress; One of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Laverne Cox is an Emmy-nominated actress who can be seen in the Netflix original series "Orange is The New Black" where she plays the ground breaking role of Sophia Burset. Cox is the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show. On the silver screen, she can be seen as 'Deathy,' a supporting role in the Lily Tomlin film "Grandma" from acclaimed writer and director Paul Weitz (release date: August 21, 2015). The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival where it was acquired by Sony Picture Classics and it showed at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Cox was named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2015. Her work as an actress and advocate landed her on the cover of TIME as well as an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. Cox continues to break boundaries and make history with accolades including a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series, a Critic's Choice nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and an NAACP Image Awards nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.


Cox has had stand out appearances on several TV shows including; the hit Fox comedy "The Mindy Project," Bravo's "Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce" and MTV's "Faking It." She also appeared as a guest judge on "Project Runway All Stars" and hosted #GoBold brought to you by Revlon, an empowering web series celebrating bold, provocative women setting out to accomplish their goals. Her documentary "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word" aired on MTV & Logo to impressive ratings. The hour-long documentary explored the lives of seven transgender youth from across the country and their determination to lead their lives as the people they are meant to be. Cox was the host and executive producer of the ground breaking documentary which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

Cox is also producing another documentary (release: 2016) titled "Free CeCe" in order to heighten visibility and awareness surrounding CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman who was controversially sentenced to 41 months in prison for second degree manslaughter after allegedly defending herself against a racist and transphobic attack. The documentary will focus on McDonald's case, her experiences while incarcerated in a men's prison and the larger implications of her case for the transgender community.

In 2013 Cox won Best Supporting Actress at the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival for her work in the critically acclaimed film "Musical Chairs" directed by Susan Seidelman ("Desperately Seeking Susan"). Cox's other acting credits include "Law and Order," "Law and Order: SVU," "Bored to Death," and the independent films "Carla" and "The Exhibitionists." Cox is the first trans woman of color to produce and star in her own television show, VH1's "TRANSForm Me" which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. She is also the first trans woman of color to appear on an American reality television program, VH1's "I Wanna Work for Diddy" for which she accepted the GLAAD media award for Outstanding Reality Program. She also received The Stephen F. Kolzak Award at the 2014 GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles.

In addition to her acting, Cox is a renowned speaker and has taken her empowering message of moving beyond gender expectations to live more authentically, all over the country. Her work as an advocate landed her a coveted spot as one of Glamour magazine's 2014 Women of the Year. She is the recipient of the Dorian Rising Star Award for her work in "Orange is the New Black," the Courage Award from the Anti-Violence Project and The Community Leader Award from the LGBT Center of New York City. She received the Reader's Choice Award from "Out" Magazine, and was named one of The Grio's 100 Most Influential African Americans, one of the Top 50 Trans Icons by the Huffington Post, and one of Out magazine's Out 100. She made the Ebony Power 100 and was ranked number 5 on the 2014 Root 100 list.

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Photo: Liz Murray

Liz Murray

Bestselling Author of "Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard"
UB Reads Author

Wednesday, October 14, 2015, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Liz Murray's life is a triumph over adversity and a stunning example of the importance of dreaming big. Murray's life as the child of cocaine-addicted parents in the Bronx was bitterly grim. There was never food in the house, everything was filthy, drugs were everywhere and the welfare checks were spent before they arrived. By age 15, Murray's mom had died and she was homeless—living on the streets, riding the subway all night and eating from dumpsters. Amidst this pain, Murray always imagined her life could be much better than it was. Determined to take charge of her life, Murray finished high school in just two years while camping out in New York City parks and subway stations.

Lifetime Television produced a movie about Murray's life story entitled "From Homeless to Harvard," which premiered in April 2003. Her memoir, "Breaking Night," was released in September 2010 and within a week landed on The New York Times bestseller list.

Murray received her B.S. in Psychology from Harvard University in June 2009. She is the recipient of Oprah Winfrey's first ever Chutzpah Award.

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Photo: John Legend

John Legend

Singer, Songwriter, Pianist, Producer and Entrepreneur
Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker

An Evening of Speaking, Q&A, and Songs with Piano

Rescheduled to Thursday, December 3, 2015, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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In December 2004, John Legend released his debut album, "Get Lifted," a platinum-selling breakthrough which garnered eight Grammy nominations and three golden statues for Best New Artist, Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Still one of the industry's most innovative artists, whom fellow music pioneer Quincy Jones calls "a genius," the singer, songwriter, pianist and producer continues to achieve new milestones.

In the summer of 2013 came his first #1 single, "All of Me," which dethroned Pharrell Williams' ubiquitous "Happy" and spent three weeks at the peak of Billboard's Hot 100 chart. "All of Me," a devotional piano ballad and love song to his wife, Chrissy Teigen, dominated airplay across five radio formats, hitting #1 on Top 40, Rhythm, Adult Contemporary (AC), Hot AC and Urban Adult Contemporary, and racking up over four billion in cumulative radio audience. It was also an international smash, reaching #1 on the official radio and sales charts in nine additional countries spanning the UK, Canada and Australia, and topping the digital charts in dozens more around the world. The official video of his single, "You & I," has over 44 million views on YouTube.

Both songs derive from Legend's fourth solo studio album, "Love in the Future," an immersive experience about romance, love, hope, commitment and optimism. Released in September 2013, "Love in the Future" resonated with critics and audiences alike, debuting at #4 on the Billboard 200 and rising to #2 on the R&B Albums and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts.


Legend's illustrious career includes an Oscar for best original song, nine Grammys, five Soul Train Awards, the BET Award for Best New Artist, and the special Starlight Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame. From the evolution of his recorded works to award show performances and sold-out tour dates worldwide, Legend remains as vital as ever.

A native of Ohio, Legend got his first break while working toward a degree in English and African-American literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He was introduced to Lauryn Hill, who hired him to play piano on her track "Everything Is Everything," and soon began playing shows around Philadelphia before expanding to New York, Boston, Atlanta and Washington DC. After college he met then up-and-coming hip-hop artist Kanye West, who quickly signed Legend to his G.O.O.D. Music imprint and hired him to sing vocal hooks on some of his music. Legend started gaining momentum through a series of collaborations, adding vocals to an impressive list of chart-topping hits including West's "Never Let Me Down," Jay-Z's "Encore" and Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name."

Legend's 2004 debut, "Get Lifted," quickly went platinum and scored eight Grammy nominations, going on to win the first three of his now-nine Grammy Awards: Best New Artist, Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the hit single "Ordinary People." Two years later came his second platinum disc, "Once Again," with the Grammy-winning single "Heaven." Legend snared his third consecutive top 10 album with 2008's "Evolver," spinning off the hit "Green Light" featuring Andre 3000.

Since "Evolver," Legend has collaborated with Rick Ross ("Magnificent," "Rich Forever"), among others, and teamed with The Roots on 2010's "Wake Up!" The album featured reinterpretations of socially conscious songs from the 1960s and '70s, including Bill Withers' "I Can't Write Left-Handed." "Wake Up!" netted Legend three more Grammys, including Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song for his original composition "Shine."

His latest album, "Love in the Future" (G.O.O.D/Columbia), is a critically acclaimed collection produced by Legend and longtime collaborators Kanye West and Dave Tozer. The album's lead single, the soulful and gritty "Who Do We Think We Are" featuring Rick Ross, shot to the top of the R&B/hip-hop charts. It was followed by a second single, "Made to Love" featuring Kimbra, a progressive blend of soul, classical and '80s/'90s Chicago house music. The album's third single, "All of Me," co-written with Toby Gad, gave Legend his first #1, segueing to his hit single, "You & I."

Along with "Shine" from "Wake Up!," which was featured in Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim's domestic education reform documentary "Waiting for Superman," Legend's soundtrack credits include two 2012 box-office hits. For the film version of Steve Harvey's best-selling book, "Think Like a Man," the singer/songwriter contributed the Grammy-nominated "Tonight (Best You've Ever Had)" featuring Ludacris. Legend took a more bluesy turn on "Who Did That to You?" an anthem heard in Quentin Tarantino's critically acclaimed film "Django Unchained." In February 2015, Legend and rapper Common's "Glory," from the soundtrack of "Selma," received an Oscar for Best Original Song.

In 2007 Legend founded his own music imprint/production entity, HomeSchool Entertainment, which has worked with Motown-signed singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe, the songwriting duo Phatboiz and management client/producer DJ Camper. More recently he extended his creative oeuvre with the establishment of Get Lifted Film Co., a film and television production company whose partners include Mike Jackson and Thias Stiklorious ("The Human Contract," "The Lather Effect"). Get Lifted has sold multiple TV projects to networks including HBO, Showtime, NBC, Fox and USA, and entered into an overall television deal with Universal Cable Productions.

Giving back is another constant in Legend's life. He serves on the board of PopTech, a unique innovation network dedicated to accelerating the positive impact of world-changing people, projects and ideas. He doubles as national spokesperson for Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a nonprofit that assists the next generation of minority business leaders. In 2011, Legend and Samsung partnered together to support education initiatives with a special focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A 2010 BET Humanitarian of the Year honoree, among other accolades, Legend launched his own education-based organization, the Show Me Campaign (ShowMeCampaign.org), in 2007.

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Photo: Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

Internationally Renowned Legal Theorist
UB's 40th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Keynote Speaker

Thursday, February 11, 2016, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Ogletree is the Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, and Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice that focuses on a variety of issues relating to race and justice. Ogletree is a prominent legal theorist who has earned an international reputation by taking a hard look at complex issues of law and by working to secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution for everyone equally under the law. He has examined these issues not only in the classroom, on the Internet, and in the pages of prestigious law journals, but also in the everyday world of the public defender in the courtroom and in public television forums where these issues can be dramatically revealed. He furthers dialogue by insisting that the justice system protect rights guaranteed to those citizens by law.

Ogletree's book titles include "Punishment in Popular Culture," a collection of essays released in June 2015 which he co-edited with Professor Austin Sarat of Amherst College; "The Presumption of Guilt: The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Race, Class and Crime in America," which draws on the 2009 mistaken arrest of Gates to explore issues of race and what must be done to create a more just legal system; "When Law Fails," which contains ten original essays; "From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America," which he co-edited with Professor Sarat; "Brown at 50: The Unfinished Legacy," which he co-authored with Professor Deborah Rhode of Stanford University to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education; and "All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education," his historical memoir that has received enthusiastically favorable reviews from many distinguished scholars, including Skip Gates, David Levering Lewis, Alan Dershowitz, John Hope Franklin, and Anita Hill. He is also the co-author of the award-winning book, "Beyond the Rodney King Story: An Investigation of Police Conduct in Minority Communities," and he frequently contributes to many journals and law reviews.


Ogletree has served as Faculty Director, Associate Dean and Vice Dean of the Harvard Law School Clinical Program. He holds honorary doctorates of law from North Carolina Central University, New England School of Law, Tougaloo College, Amherst College, Wilberforce University, and University of Miami School of Law.

In 2006 and again in 2007, Ogletree was named by Ebony Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans. He was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the National Black Law Students Association, where he served as National President from 1977-1978. Ogletree also received the first ever Rosa Parks Civil Rights Award, given by the City of Boston, and Morehouse College's Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders Prize. The Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund honored him with the Justice in Action Award, and the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus presented him with their "Good Guys" Award.

He has written chapters in several books, including If You Buy the Hat, He Will Come, in "Faith of Our Fathers: African American Men Reflect on Fatherhood" and The Tireless Warrior for Racial Justice, which appears in "Reason & Passion: Justice Brennan's Enduring Influence." His commentaries have appeared in the editorial pages of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe, among other newspapers. His commentary on how to make Black America better was published in "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and he has also contributed a chapter, The Rehnquist Revolution in Criminal Procedure, for "The Rehnquist Court: Judicial Activism on the Right."

In addition to his strong academic focus, Ogletree's national media experience and exposure is considerable in its scope. He moderated the nationally-televised forums, "State of the Black Union" and "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community" and also served as a moderator on the PBS series "Ethics in America," as well as programs including "Hard Drugs, Hard Choices, Liberty & Limits: Whose Law, Whose Order?" and "Credibility in the Newsroom." He has appeared as a guest commentator on "Nightline," "This Week with David Brinkley," "McNeil-Lehrer News Hour," "Crossfire," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," "Larry King Live," "Cochran & Company," "Burden of Proof," and "Meet the Press" as well as other national and local television and radio programs. He served as NBC legal commentator on the O.J. Simpson case.

In 2005, Ogletree was honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award for National Service, and presented with the Morehouse College Candle in the Dark Award in Education and Law. He also received the City University of New York Public Interest Law Association Lifetime Achievement Award in Public Interest Law. In 2004, the Clio Exchange presented him with the Carter G. Woodson History Maker Living Legend Award. He received the A. Leon Higginbotham Lawyer of the Year Award from the National Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. In 2003, he was chosen by Savoy Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Blacks in America, and by Black Enterprise Magazine, along with Thurgood Marshall, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., and Constance Baker Motley, as "one of the legal legends among America's top black lawyers." In 2002, he received the National Bar Association's prestigious Equal Justice Award. In 2001, he joined a list of distinguished jurists, including former Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan, and civil rights lawyers Elaine Jones and Oliver Hill, when he received the prestigious Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit from the Washington Bar Association.

Ogletree earned an MA and BA (with distinction) in Political Science from Stanford University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa. He also holds a JD from Harvard Law School where he served as Special Projects Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights - Civil Liberties Law Review.

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Photo: Siddhartha Mukherjee

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Cancer Physician, Researcher and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author of "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Siddhartha Mukherjee is a cancer physician and researcher. He is the author of "The Laws of Medicine" and "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer," winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction and the inspiration behind a six-hour television documentary produced by Ken Burns, which aired on PBS in March 2015. "The Emperor of All Maladies" is a profoundly humane biography of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. Mukherjee has examined cancer with a cellular biologist's precision, a historian's perspective, and a biographer's passion. "The Emperor of All Maladies" provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments and provides hope and clarity to those seeking to demystify cancer.

Mukherjee is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a staff cancer physician at Columbia University/New York University Presbyterian Hospital. A Rhodes Scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in Nature, The New England Journal of Medicine, The New York Times, and The New Republic.

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Photo: Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey

Academy Award-Winning Actor, Star of "House of Cards," Producer, and Former Artistic Director of London's Old Vic Theatre
UB Graduate & Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker

Wednesday, April 27, 2016, 8 p.m.
Alumni Arena, UB's North (Amherst) Campus

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Perhaps no one in Hollywood works harder to defend the value and integrity of the arts quite like Kevin Spacey. A lifelong artist, Spacey began his acting career in Jr. High School and High School drama classes. He later attended the Juilliard School of Drama and began his professional career on the New York stage, which eventually propelled his career into film.

Spacey has won Academy Awards for his performances in "The Usual Suspects" and "American Beauty," which also garnered him a BAFTA Award. Additionally, he has been nominated for eight Golden Globe Awards. Spacey's illustrious film credits include "Swimming with Sharks," "Se7en," "LA Confidential," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "The Negotiator," "K-Pax," "The Shipping News," "Superman Returns," "Beyond the Sea," "Shrink," "The Men Who Stare at Goats," "Horrible Bosses" and "Margin Call."

Spacey's production company Trigger Street Productions, which he runs with his producing partner Dana Brunetti, has produced multiple award-winning movies for film and television. Their films include "The Social Network," which won a Golden Globe for Best Picture and received multiple Academy Award nominations. They also produced the Sony Picture's film, "21," and the independent features "The United States of Leland," "The Big Kahuna" and "Fanboys." Trigger Street's most recent film was "Captain Phillips," which starred Tom Hanks and was released in October 2013.


For television, Trigger Street produced two films for HBO, "Recount" and "Bernard & Doris," both of which garnered double-digit Emmy Award nominations and a Best Film of the Year Emmy for "Recount."

From 2004 thru May 2015, Spacey served as the Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre Company in London. He directed its inaugural production "Cloaca," before appearing in "National Anthems," "The Philadelphia Story," "Richard II," "A Moon for the Misbegotten," which subsequently transferred to Broadway, "Speed-the-Plow" with Jeff Goldblum, and "Inherit The Wind." Spacey most recently toured all over the world with the Sam Mendes production of "Richard III," which was part of the third year of the Bridge Project between the Old Vic and BAM. Most recently, Spacey was awarded the prestigious Laurence Olivier Special Award for his incredible contribution to British theatre during his tenure as Artistic Director.

Spacey currently serves as executive producer and stars as 'Francis Underwood,' the beguiling, charismatic and ruthless President, in the Netflix original series "House of Cards." For this work, he received the two Golden Globe nominations, including one win, and two Emmy nominations for Best Actor. The series is produced by Donen/Fincher/Roth and Trigger Street Productions, in association with Media Rights Capital, and has received 20 Emmy Awards nominations; winning four of those awards.

In 2014, Spacey was named one of Forbes magazine's Most Powerful Celebrities, and was the first online-only television star to make the list.

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