Thursday 17, 2009
            MARQUETTE, Mich.—Northern Michigan University will host the Uniting Neighbors in the Experience of Diversity (UNITED) Conference Sept. 27 through Oct. 1. A full slate of activities blends entertainment, education and inspiration. The public is invited.

All events, with the exception of the Freedom Writers presentation and the closing concert by the Pakistani rock band Junoon, are free of charge. For a full and updated schedule, visit www.nmu.edu/united. Featured presentations to be held in the Great Lakes Rooms of the University Center include:

▪Sarah Vazquez, who will give the opening keynote at 8 a.m. Monday, Sept. 28. She is a spokesperson for people with disabilities. Her talks are a mix of her Puerto Rican heritage and her life experiences. Vazquez was born and raised in Newark, N.J. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of four. Her mother raised her mindful of two major facts: rice and beans could not be missing from the dinner table due to her Puerto Rican culture; and she could do anything she put her mind to. Vazquez works as a support coordinator at Neighbours Inc. and is also editing her autobiography.

▪Freedom Writers: 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28. Teacher Erin Gruwell gave some “unteachable” inner-city kids at a Los Angeles school their own voice by having them journal their experiences, emotions, challenges and triumphs. They also discovered how writing helped Anne Frank cope with her situation hiding from the Nazis. Two former students involved in the original Freedom Writers diary project, which served as the basis for a Hollywood movie.

▪Native American artist Sam English spent the first chapters of his life as an alcoholic, the later chapters—the ones of deep creativity—as an artist and an activist in the healing work of the recovery movement. He will discuss his new book, his work and his efforts working to help people get past their addictions at his 7 p.m. presentation on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

▪Salman Ahmad, guitarist/composer for the band Junoon and United Nations goodwill ambassador, will address “Music and Poetry in Building Peace” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30. Ahmad is a doctor by training and a rock musician by profession. He works with the UN to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS in South Asia. With Junoon, he has been increasingly involved in humanitarian efforts, playing at such events as the Building Human Rights Culture Gala, the Empower Peace program with students in Pakistan and fundraising for Hurricane Katrina victims. He also produced two documentaries: The Rock Star and the Mullahs, which tracks his visit to the northern Pakistani town of Peshawar, where he directly challenges the local Muslim clergy who have banned all forms of music; and Muslims in America: It's My Country Too, which uncovers the authentic spirit of American Muslims and their experience wrestling with the personal and social consequences of the 9/11 attacks.

Kristi Evans
News Director