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Civil Rights Advocates to Speak at Mills College Commencement Ceremonies

Betty Reid Soskin

Betty Reid Soskin

Oakland, CA—March 22, 2017

Mills College will celebrate its 129th Commencement on Saturday, May 13, 2017 with an address by Lateefah Simon, a passionate and nationally recognized advocate for civil rights and racial justice.

In addition, Mills College will award an honorary degree to 95-year-old National Parks Ranger Betty Reid Soskin, a tireless, outspoken and articulate voice dedicated to remembering discrimination and segregation of African Americans who worked in Richmond, California shipyards during World War II.

Soskin works full time at the the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond and is the oldest park ranger in the National Parks system. She was involved in the planning stages of the Richmond historical park before it opened in 2000 and championed the concept to recognize it as a place of segregation and discrimination among African Americans who helped build 747 ships in three years.

Simon, who will deliver the commencement address, is president of the Akonadi Foundation, an Oakland-based foundation dedicated to eliminating structural racism in society by providing grants and building support for racial justice movements. In 2016, Simon was elected to serve District 7 on the BART board of directors and was appointed by the Governor of California to the California State University Board of Trustees. “I want people to know that a better life is possible,” Simon told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015. “I want them to know that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are due a process of transformation. You deserve another chance.”

Simon is a champion of juvenile and criminal justice reform, particularly for low-income young women and girls. At just 19, she was named executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco. With encouragement from then San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is now a US Senator, Simon led the creation of San Francisco’s first re-entry program in the San Francisco district attorney’s office that helped people convicted of nonviolent, first-time, low-level drug offenses get jobs, enroll in school, and improve their lives.

Lateefah Simon

Lateefah Simon

“Lateefah Simon has devoted her life’s work to helping the poor, the disadvantaged, and those trapped in the cycle of our criminal justice system,” Harris said.

Prior to joining the Akonadi Foundation, she was program director at the San Francisco-based Rosenberg Foundation and was executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Since committing herself to civil rights and racial justice issues some 20 years ago, she has garnered numerous accolades and awards including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship when she was just 26, the Chronicle of Philanthropy 40 under 40 designation, the Jefferson Award for extraordinary public service and California Woman of the Year from the California State Assembly. She has also been recognized by the Ford Foundation, the National Organization for Women, Lifetime Television, and OMagazine.

The 129th Commencement will begin at 10 am on Holmgren Meadow on the Mills campus and will celebrate the academic achievements of 285 undergraduate women and 377 graduate women and men including students receiving certificates and credentials in a variety of fields. The event is open to the public.

About Mills College
Located in Oakland, California, in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mills College is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women with graduate programs for women and men. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized as one of The Best 381 Colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. Since 1852, we’ve been empowering students to become creative, independent thinkers who take and inspire action. For more information, visit