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FSHD Executive Director Peter J. O’Connor Gives Commencement Address at Berea College

Published on May 8th, 2013 in Fair Share Housing Development

What inspires someone to begin the fight for social justice? It’s the values we learn “in the home,” longtime civil rights activist Peter J. O’Connor told the graduating class at Berea College’s 141st commencement in Kentucky on May 5. “How we are going to live our lives and treat others starts with the values we are taught by our parents.”

“My brother Jim and I are the product of a single-parent household. My mother taught elementary school in Newark and Orange, New Jersey for over 30 years, always worked her entire summer vacations because we needed the money, and her joy was seeing us do well. She taught us, through her example, that determination and hard work were the keys to success. She repeatedly told us, ‘I will never let you down’ and ‘No matter what the obstacles are, you can do it.’

“Despite her work schedule, my mother never missed one of our school or sports events. She always helped us with our homework even as she struggled to earn her Master’s degree in education at night at Seton Hall University. She instilled in us compassion and respect for our neighbors, classmates and their families, regardless of whether they were rich or poor, black or white.”

O’Connor, the Executive Director of Fair Share Housing Development and Fair Share Housing Center, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for being a “distinguished attorney for
more than 40 years; renowned civil rights activist; powerful and esteemed public speaker; dedicated proponent of social justice; champion for affordable housing and development in underserved communities; and steadfast advocate for quality of life and equity for all.”

The full text of O’Connor’s speech, “Social Justice in a Changing World,” can be read by clicking here. To learn more about Peter’s mother, Margaret Donnelly O’Connor, who is the namesake of the Education Center at FSHD’s flagship development, Ethel R. Lawrence Homes, click here. Pictures of the commencement are on FSHD’s Facebook page.

Berea College is distinctive among institutions of higher learning. Founded in 1855, Berea was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. Berea awards four-year tuition scholarships to all its students, who because of financial circumstances cannot otherwise afford a high-quality, residential, liberal arts education.

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