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Recalling MLK’s principles of service

At Candlelight Vigil, actor-author-activist Hill Harper urges Northwestern students to find their purpose

Hill Harper found his calling to work with the Innocence Project organically.

Giving the annual Candlelight Vigil address hosted by Northwestern’s Alpha Mu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, which was held on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Hill traced his desire to make an impact back to King’s legacy and the principles of service instilled in him as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, also King’s fraternity.

Hill Harper
Hill Harper

“King said we’re all ‘tied in a single garment of destiny,’ and to the extent we can lift up anyone in our community, we also help ourselves,” he said.

Harper, an actor with several TV credits, including “CSI: NY,” was moved to help the disproportionate number of Black and brown males who are incarcerated. He wrote “Letters to an Incarcerated Brother” (Penguin Random House, 2013) using letters he exchanged with those he terms “re-entering citizens.”

Harper joined the Innocence Project, a nonprofit which exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and works to reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice, to have further impact. He began to realize economic support for re-entry was essential to interrupting the high rate of recidivism.

“Capital punishment means you get punished if you don’t have capital,” Harper said.

This year marks the centennial of the Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a series of violent events that destroyed the lives and the economic livelihood of a community considered at that time to be the wealthiest Black community in the United States.

Harper is now developing a virtual Black Wall Street to help tear down barriers to employment. The site will support the business enterprises of re-entering citizens.

At the conclusion of the event, members of Alpha Phi Alpha presented awards to four Northwestern undergraduates. Totaling $2,500, the awards were presented to Brandon Ozobu, a first-year student studying neuroscience; Olivia Pearce, a first-year Weinberg College student studying music as a minor; Shira Nash, a second-year student studying sociology with an international business minor; and Mathias Reweta, a third-year student studying mechanical engineering.