Watson to speak at Robert L. Polk lectureship series
Maurice Watson, partner at the law firm Husch Blackwell in Kansas City, Missouri, will serve as the keynote speaker at the third annual Robert L. Polk Lectureship Series on Monday, April 16. Watson’s lecture, titled “Time’s Up: Who’s Watching the Clock,” will focus on the life work of many leaders -- past and present -- who have advanced equity and justice in the world.
Watson, a Harvard Law School graduate, became chairman of Husch Blackwell in 2012 and partner in 2018. Watson is recognized as one of the most influential black lawyers in America and is among the most influential civic leaders in Kansas City. Watson is a lifelong friend of Marilyn Johnson-Farr, professor of education at Doane, and jumped at the opportunity when Johnson-Farr asked if he would be interested in speaking at Doane.
“You hear about the history and legacy of Rev. Polk and his leadership from the time he was a student at Doane and throughout his life, it’s inspirational,” Watson said. “It’s humbling but also a great inspiration to see all of the leadership, courage, and determination of those like Rev. Polk who proceeded me that allowed me to make some of my dreams come true. I am gratified to be able to participate in a lecture that honors and recognizes him.”
The Polk Lecture series on race and social justice was established by Rev. Robert L. Polk ’52, the first African-American to graduate from Doane. Soon to be 90 years old, Rev. Polk lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was inspired to give back to Doane after coming back to visit five years ago. The option of starting a lectureship series came after his good college friend, Don Goodrich, generously gave back to Doane, providing funds that could go towards a lectureship series.
“We have crossed so many bridges in the last 60-plus years but being a black student to receive a college degree was really special,” Polk said. “It was really something back in those days. It was because of the experience I had at Doane that allowed me to succeed in my career, especially in interracial settings.”
Rev. Polk came to Doane after attending a community college with the desire to enroll at a four-year institution. Polk arrived at Doane in 1949, when him and Georgetta Weaver were the only two of roughly 400 students at the college that were black. As Polk recalls, tuition, room & board was under $1,000 and “when I left, there was far more support for students like myself than there were people who were negative.”
Polk spent most of his ministry serving young people. He became ordained in 1955 and began his career as the pastor at a church in Berthold, North Dakota, where he was one of less than 50 African Americans in the entire state at the time. Although Polk says as a society we have come a very long way since the 50s, “racism is still the cancer of society. Of all the issues people are fighting about, racism is at the top.”
By continuing the dialogue at Doane through the lectureship series, it allows for dynamic talks about race and social issues, something Johnson-Farr is excited for Watson to lead on Monday.
“Maurice has a commanding presence,” she said. “I hope students recognize that we have to see ourselves as works in progress and we must educate ourselves about every race and creed so we don’t stay stuck in time. If we don’t create an intentional forum for these conversations, they may never happen.”
Monday’s Polk Lecture Series begins at 7:00pm in rooms 236 and 238 of the Chab Weyers Education & Hixson Lied Art Building. The event is free and open to the public.