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Meet Bart Schultz from the University of Chicago Civic Knowledge Project

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bart Schultz.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Bart. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am the Director of the University of Chicago Civic Knowledge Project (CKP). The CKP was founded by MacArthur “genius grant” winner Danielle Allen in 2003, in the hope that it would use humanities programming to serve as a vehicle for cultivating civic friendship on Chicago’s South Side. Danielle got me involved with the CKP pretty much from the start, in part because I had been teaching at UChicago since 1987 and had always been a champion of community engagement work and carrying on the legacy of philosopher John Dewey, who had played an important role at UChicago from 1894 to 1904. Dewey founded the UChicago Laboratory Schools (which still flourish today) and was famous for his progressive democratic philosophy and educational views. Dewey, like Allen, thought UChicago needed to be actively engaged with its neighboring communities on a basis of reciprocity and civic friendship.

When I became Director of the CKP, in 2006, that vision proved to be even more life-altering than expected. The CKP has allowed me to transcend the rather limited role of academic philosopher and develop my philosophical and political views in active conversation and collaboration with an extraordinary range of fascinating people, from whom I have learned an amazing amount. For example, the CKP allowed me to expand and deepen my work with South Side legend Timuel D. Black, who just celebrated his 100th birthday on December 7th (there were some major events to mark the occasion–seehttps://chicagocrusader.com/happy-100th-birthday-timuel-black/ ). Prof. Black has been living on the South Side since his family moved here from Birmingham in 1919, and he has known and worked with everyone from A. Phillip Randolph, to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Margaret Burroughs, to Harold Washington, to Carol Mosely Braun, to Barack and Michelle Obama. An activist, educator, and oral historian, Prof. Black has taught me the real meaning of being an activist educator, and I am honored to have worked with him to help teach generations of South Side Chicago students, of all ages, how the humanities, including history, can transform their lives for the better. One of my favorite CKP programs is our annual “Timuel D. Black Distinguished Guest Lecture and Jazz Concert,” now in its fourth year. The event is always filled to capacity with people from across the South Side coming by to enjoy the brilliant conversation and brilliant music! See, for a taster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MnJ4CDmzYs  And it was my honor and privilege to edit his memoir, Sacred Ground: The Chicago Streets of Timuel Black, which has now been released–see http://www.nupress.northwestern.edu/content/sacred-ground

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As the old saying has it, ‘the struggle continues’! Work for social justice, for better educational and economic opportunities for all, has never enjoyed a smooth road. The obstacles can take many forms, whether it is dealing with the Chicago Public Schools bureaucracy to be able to provide local schools with better educational programs, such as the CKP’s award-winning Winning Words precollege philosophy program, or with the institutional inertia of those who do not see the urgent need for enhancing diversity and inclusion in higher education, or with the still all too real and pervasive racism confronting our society. At times, it can seem ridiculously difficult just to be thoughtful and kind, and to encourage others to be that way as well. But this is where working with Prof. Black can be so inspiring. He is now 100 years old, and in his life has seen far worse things than I have (including the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II and the attacks on MLK and the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s). But he always remains upbeat and ready to work for a better world, optimism incarnate. His spirit should serve as a model for all of us.

Please tell us about the University of Chicago Civic Knowledge Project.
Well, I would encourage people to visit our website, at http://civicknowledge.uchicago.edu/. We work on many fronts, but I suppose it all amounts to an effort to build meaningful community on Chicago’s South Side. UChicago has much to contribute to the South Side, but it also has much to learn from the South Side, from historic communities like Bronzeville and inspiring figures like Prof. Black. If we can foster community connections that really facilitate a deeper understanding of the potential of an urban university to be a good neighbor, a community resource, then everyone is better off. The CKP has tried to work in honest and reciprocal ways with our community partners, to foster trust rather than distrust. The legacy of distrust, going back to UChicago’s support for restrictive racial covenants enforcing segregation in housing, and urban renewal policies that were rightly criticized as ‘Negro removal,’ is not easy to overcome. A candid acknowledgment of the mistakes of the past and an honest commitment to doing better in the future are crucial. And the humanities–art, philosophy, literature–can really help build the needed bridges. At a time when there is a deep and seemingly increasing suspicion of higher education, this work could not be more important. Everyone has a stake in cultivating a more thoughtful and caring citizenry, and colleges and universities need to reflect that. Everyone has a side that loves to philosophize, about one thing or another. We need to facilitate, but not try to monopolize, the philosophical conversations that can help us deal with a rapidly changing world, with such issues as climate change and other environmental crises, which are also matters of social justice. This is philosophy in a new, more diverse, relevant, and inclusive, key.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Riding a large alligator at the California Alligator Farm. The alligator was old and had been featured in various movies, so was rather tame and sedentary. They put a saddle on him and would take pictures of children seated on him for a moment or two. But when they put me on him, he decided to take off and started running around his pen. I jumped off after getting a very exciting and unexpected ride.

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Image Credit:
Bart Schultz

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