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Kristi Henderson
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Professor’s biography of mentor to Civil Rights activists wins award

Tue, 03/05/2013

LAWRENCE – The biography of Civil Rights mentor Benjamin E. Mays by a University of Kansas professor has been recognized as one of the top nonfiction works by an African-American author in 2012.

Randal Jelks, associate professor of American studies and African and African-American studies, was selected as the recipient of the 2013 Literary Award for Nonfiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. It is one of a handful of awards given by the organization to recognize excellence in adult fiction and nonfiction by African-American authors.

Jelks’ book “Benjamin Elijah Mays: Schoolmaster of the Movement” was released in April 2012 by the University of North Carolina Press. Mays is often remembered as Martin Luther King Jr.’s mentor, yet many historians have overlooked Mays’ legacy as an educator and theologian in the Civil Rights Era.

The award adds further recognition for the biography, which has interested readers and scholars across the country. Jelks has traveled to nearly a dozen states to talk about his book, including a panel discussion that was broadcast on C-SPAN.

“I am thrilled to receive the attention for something I worked on for years,” Jelks said. “It is also gratifying to me because the two departments that I am affiliated with get recognition by me being asked to speak at so many places. It is a double win.”

Jelks has said his biography of Mays (1894-1984) recognizes “that the Civil Rights Movement was as much a theological struggle as it was a secular social democratic movement.”

Jelks follows Mays from childhood — the youngest of eight children of former slaves — to his presidency of Morehouse College and his world-renowned ecumenical leadership through retirement when Mays led the peaceful integration of Atlanta’s public schools.

Jelks is co-editor of the journal American Studies and is author of “African Americans in the Furniture City: the Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan.” At KU, Jelks holds courtesy appointments in history and religious studies. In addition to degrees in history — a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a doctoral degree from Michigan State University, Jelks has a master’s of divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church.

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association serves as an advocate for the development, promotion and improvement of library services and resources to the nation's African American community and provides leadership for the recruitment and professional development of African-American librarians.

The Departments of American Studies and African and African-American Studies are part of KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. It is the broadest and most diverse academic unit at KU.



Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here: http://bit.ly/1awodaa
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@NYTimes columnist @WCRhoden will speak at a symposium about race and sports April 23. http://t.co/UiKA9MYNv0 http://t.co/PHwCOHqcfD
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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