Lester K. Spence is one of the foremost public intellectuals of his generation. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His research is on the cutting edge of the academy, conducting experiments to measure the effect of HIV/AIDS stories on public policy preferences, examining the politics of hip-hop lyrics, and testing President Obama’s influence on black and white public opinion. Furthermore he is one of Hopkins’ best teachers having been awarded the prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award for the way he motivates and inspires students to realize their full capacity. Finally, he is a proud husband and father of five children.
By the time the first decade of the 21st Century ended, we entered a moment of tremendous possibility, opportunity, and anxiety. Many of the ideas we’ve held for well over two hundred years (“the country will never elect a black President”) have been turned on their head. Many of the institutions that we once took for granted (“What’s good for GM is good for the country”) are undergoing severe change.
These moments of crisis and change represent opportunity for tremendous growth and transformation. How do we make sense of where we’ve been in such a way that we know where we go from here? How do we take advantage of our newfound ability to communicate, to publish, to build networks instantaneously, using this ability to rebuild our cities, our institutions, ourselves?
Ever since growing up in a working class suburb of Detroit, Dr. Spence has been dedicated to answering these questions and has sought to create space through which citizens from all walks of life can begin to answer these questions for themselves. One of the first social scientists to blog, and a longtime commentator on National Public Radio, Spence is known not only for his ability to break complex information down into its radical components, he is known for his ability to do so with humor, flair, and compassion. As we all struggle to redefine our institutions and ourselves in this challenging time, Spence’s academic and public intellectual work makes him uniquely suited to helping corporate, non-profit, and university leaders to chart a new path.
- The Phoenix Reborn: What the Death and Rebirth of Detroit Can Tell Us About the Rest of the Country
As of 2009 it was cheaper to purchase a house in Detroit and her surrounding suburbs than it was to purchase a car. Unemployment rates in and around Detroit are routinely double that of the rest of the country. Time Warner has taken the audacious step of purchasing a house in the city to permanently house a coterie of journalists whose purpose it is to document Detroit’s fall and rise. Detroit represents a microcosm of the challenges we face as a nation. In this lecture, Spence uses Detroit as the vehicle to talk about the types of changes institutions must make in order to stay relevant in the 21st Century.
- What MLK Means in the Obama Age
Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party in 2008 on the same day that Martin Luther King gave his I Have a Dream speech at the Washington Mall. Now President Obama is often touted as the realization of Martin Luther King’s Dream. But is he? In this speech, Spence looks closely at Martin Luther King’s life, connecting his last words to generate a discussion of what a post-racial politics should look like.
- Debunking the Myth of the Digital Divide
With the rise of the Internet, many pundits and analysts argued that a whole population, largely non-white, was being left out of the digital age. In this speech Spence debunks this notion, arguing that blacks and Latinos are actually more likely to adopt new forms of technology. He also articulates the political, economic, and social consequences of the growing “reverse digital divide” for schools, businesses, and homes.
- Investing in Human Potential: The Fundamental Challenge of the 21st Century
We live in perhaps the most challenging time of the last seventy years, with unemployment rising, environmental problems growing, and domestic and international tension increasing. But at the same time we are more connected and have access to more information than any other time in human history. How can we use this increased connectedness to help solve these problems? In this lecture Spence makes a clarion call for the equivalent of a human capital Marshall plan—one that builds our greatest asset.
“Lester Spence has a pre-eminent command of language. Language which is effective, of the time, and specific. Language, which, above all - is powerful, and catalyzing, because it is the language of the present, and of our generation.”
“Professor Spence’s passion and interest in politics is undeniably contagious. His intellect is inspiring…”
“But Professor Spence was the professor who not only had a significant impact on my academic experience, but also had a significant impact on my life”
“Dr. Spence is always engaged in “the discussion” whether it is one-on-one with his students in an academic setting, informally with native Baltimoreans or with the nation on radio talk shows and through his blog.”
“Professor Spence is one of the most influential professors I have ever encountered at Hopkins. He was an amazing professor for several reasons: his practical yet brilliant insights on racial politics, his uncanny ability to dissect any issue both inside and outside the classroom, and his unique teaching style. His lectures were always engaging and I often walked away from class more interested and more motivated than I was before.”
“Professor Spence is the best lecturer I have ever seen in my life.”