Transformative Voices: Panama Soweto, Alison Malmon, and Renée Welch Headline ACUI Talks

Speakers devoted to a more inclusive and empowered future will take center stage on Wednesday, March 27, at 1 p.m. during ACUI Talks — the closing session of the 2024 ACUI Annual Conference in Denver. From dismantling systemic injustices to championing mental health awareness and fostering career development, the three speakers participating in this session will provide attendees with strategies to navigate their everyday experiences upon returning home.

Panama Soweto: A Force for Change

JC Futrell, renowned by his stage moniker Panama Soweto, epitomizes transformative spoken word artistry. The activist, poet, hip-hop artist, educator, and nonprofit executive is a catalyst for societal change. Through his performances, Soweto delves into pressing issues such as racial inequity and systemic racism, challenging norms and sparking meaningful conversations.

Soweto, who was born in New York City in 1976 and moved to Denver in 1988, comes from a long line of changemakers: His grandfather, John W. Mosley, was part of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces. Despite facing discrimination and segregation, the Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves with bravery and skill, earning numerous awards and accolades for their combat achievements. Their service played a significant role in breaking racial barriers in the military and paved the way for desegregation in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Today, Soweto continues his grandfather’s tireless advocacy. His contributions include renaming Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood after his grandparents, becoming a 2006 National Poetry Slam champion on the Denver Slam team, and his transformative work performing in colleges and universities throughout the United States.

In a January Q&A with Colorado State University, Soweto said he often reflects on the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., when immersed in advocacy work.

“I think of the idea of nonviolent protest,” Soweto said. “I think of the idea of never backing down and bringing all voices to the table. And especially when my wife and I were running that campaign to change the then-Stapleton neighborhood’s name to Mosley Park, I thought of my grandparents. I thought of Dr. King’s legacy.”

Alison Malmon: Championing Mental Health Awareness

Alison Malmon, executive director of Active Minds, Inc., will also take the stage during ACUI talks. Malmon’s journey into mental health advocacy stems from a deeply personal experience with the mental health of her brother, a Columbia University student named Brian, who died of suicide. Faced with a lack of resources and support, Malmon took matters into her own hands and founded Active Minds during her college years.

“Brian thought he was the only one at Columbia who was struggling,” Malmon told writer Glenn Holsten in an article for OC87 Recovery Diaries. “He thought there was something wrong with him, that he was being weak, that everybody else was ‘having the best time of their lives’ because (A) that’s what you’re told you’re supposed to do, and (B) that’s kind of the air that everybody gives off. It was really important to me that folks in Brian’s situation hear stories from their peers like ‘Hey I’ve been through that too,’ or ‘I was diagnosed with anxiety my freshman year and look I’m a senior, and I’m doing okay, and I can still own one of the big block buildings in New York.'”

What started as a small student group has since become a globally recognized nonprofit organization that promotes mental health awareness and education among young adults. Through engaging speakers and tailored programs, Active Minds is revolutionizing the conversation surrounding mental health, empowering individuals to speak openly and act purposefully to effect change.

Malmon’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, earning her numerous accolades, including the USA Network’s “Characters Unite Award,” the American Express “Top Global Emerging Innovator,” and recognition as a CNN “Person You Should Know.” Her commitments extend beyond professional achievements; she’s also a dedicated mother of three daughters who finds solace and joy in the art of flying trapeze.

Renée Welch: Facilitating Career Learning and Workforce Development

Adding further depth to the ACUI Talks lineup is Renée Welch, director of career connected learning and workforce development at the Colorado Department of Higher Education. With two decades of experience in higher education career services, Welch brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table.

Welch’s career journey includes significant contributions to collegiate apprenticeships and workforce development initiatives, such as participation in Fulbright’s International Education Administrators Seminar in Germany. Fulbright award recipients are chosen for their academic and professional accomplishments, service record, and leadership. According to an August 2019 University of Northern Colorado article, Welch’s motivation for pursuing this Fulbright stemmed from Colorado initiatives aimed at tackling anticipated shortages in the workforce talent pool.

As a first-generation college graduate, Welch’s personal and professional experiences, which include work at Colorado State University, Colorado College, and the University of Northern Colorado, uniquely position her to advocate for career readiness and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with transformative voices and thought leaders paving the way for a better future at ACUI Talks.

Author

  • Christine Preusler

    Christine Preusler, Managing Editor at The Wyman Company in Gainesville, Florida, writes The Lead for ACUI's biweekly newsletter, The Bulletin. Christine uses more than 15 years of experience in publication management and a master’s in mass communications from the University of Florida to highlight the latest industry news and create thought-provoking content. Contact her via email (cpreusler@thewymancompany.com) with story ideas and announcements you'd like to see in the newsletter.

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