The Richmond Register

April 29, 2013

Civil rights leader to address Berea graduates Sunday


Special to the Register

BEREA — Longtime civil rights activist Peter J. O’Connor of Camden, N.J., will address 232 degree candidates during Berea College’s 141st commencement service 2 p.m. Sunday

O’Connor will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree.

The commencement ceremony in the main arena of Seabury Center will be the first since Dr. Lyle D. Roelofs began serving as Berea College’s ninth president on July 1.

A live video stream of the commencement will be viewable at webapps.berea.edu/stream/commencement.

O’Connor has dedicated his life and legal career to fighting socialinjustice, particularly in the area of affordable, quality housing for the underprivileged, according to a news release from the college.

O’Connor is the founder and executive director of Fair Share Housing Development in Camden and executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center. The center is a public interest organization devoted to defending housing rights of New Jersey residents through enforcement of the Mount Laurel Doctrine, widely regarded as one of the most significant civil rights cases in the United States since Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Stemming from the first case of its type in the nation, the Mount Laurel Doctrine prohibits economic discrimination through exclusionary zoning in New Jersey municipalities and requires every municipality to plan, zone and take measures to provide its “fair share” of the region’s need for affordable housing opportunities for low and moderate-income families.

As a result, more than 50,000 affordable housing units have been developed in an effort to improve the lives of moderate-income, low-income, and very low-income families, the elderly, and disabled.

Best known for serving as lead counsel in the “Camden Coalition” litigation of the early seventies that challenged the City of Camden's urban revitalization efforts, O’Connor has worked for more than three decades advocating for affordable housing and community development initiatives in New Jersey, one of the most segregated states, with the second highest rental housing costs.

O’Connor obtained his bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of the Holy Cross in 1963 before earning a law degree from Georgetown University in 1966.

Other graduation-related events will take place Sunday. A pinning ceremony for nursing graduates will be conducted at 8:30 a.m. in Phelps-Stokes Chapel, followed at 10:30 a.m. by a baccalaureate service.

A luncheon for graduation candidates and their families will be served at 11:30 a.m. in the Alumni building.

Following the commencement service, a reception for graduates, families and guests will take place in the campus Quad.