AIC, MKI Launch Desmond Tutu Lecture Series Unique Public Health Awareness Program Will Begin on April 20

SPRINGFIELD — As part of the college’s commitment to improving the lives of the children and families in the Greater Springfield area, American International College has partnered with the Medical Knowledge Institute to launch the Desmond Tutu Lecture Series on Public Health Awareness.

Archbishop Tutu, a member of MKI’s international Board of Advisors, will be the first speaker in the series on April 20 at AIC.

The Medical Knowledge Institute is an international, nonprofit organization dedicated to health care education and information as a human right.

Harold Robles, co-founder of the Medical Knowledge Institute and the Albert Schweitzer Institute for the Humanities, said he is excited to join forces with AIC to present the lecture series.

“AIC and MKI both serve populations that are often underserved, overlooked, and underestimated, to meet their needs of education, awareness, and improved public health,” he said. “We have to try to try make a difference in the lives of young people, and to touch them and show them what life is all about and how they can make a difference.”

Dedicated to promoting health care education as a human right, Robles co-founded the MKI in 1999 along with Peter Bittel, president of Futures HealthCore of Springfield and an AIC Trustee. Vince Maniaci, president of AIC, said the college is honored that Tutu has agreed to partner with the college and MKI in presenting the lecture series.

“The Archbishop’s humanitarian spirit, joy of diversity, and love of youth reflects the mission of the college,” he said. “His presence on campus and his life-long commitment to humanitarian efforts will serve as an inspiration to our students, as well as members of the community.”

The visit by Tutu will include a meeting with AIC students and local high-school students, and a convocation in the Griswold Theatre, where the archbishop will be awarded an honorary degree and will deliver the first lecture of the series. There will also be a cocktail reception and dinner at the Sheraton.

Henry Thomas, an AIC graduate and president of the Springfield Urban League, talked about the importance of having visit the area.

“This is a time when many people in our community and many people in the country are experiencing economic and social despair,” he said. “When communities experience what we are today, it is incredibly helpful to hear voices of profound wisdom and experience, like the voice of Archbishop Desmond Tutu — particularly when we are all trying to figure out how to make it better for communities that are struggling, and trying to come up with answers.

“When one has the opportunity to compare their own misery to someone who has already been through the fire,” he added, “it can lift spirits and hopes and be remarkably instructive to those who are looking for better answers to solving individual and societal problems.”

John Short, vice president of Institutional Advancement at AIC, said public-health awareness is important to the college and the community, and getting high-school students involved is crucial. “We’ve been meeting with curriculum directors and teachers to get area students involved,” he said. “One of the things we’ve been discussing is an essay contest. The specifics have yet to be worked out, but winners at each school will have an opportunity to have lunch with the archbishop.”

Robles said he hopes the lecture series is just the beginning. “The relationship between AIC and MKI is extraordinarily important. Eventually we are going to send out students from here to Africa and students in Africa here. We already do it in Holland. This year alone we have seven students from the Netherlands working in South Africa, and it’s growing. I would like to see the same thing happen here,” he said.

While the visit by Tutu is the kickoff of the series, Short said there will be many other activities leading up to the main event.

“A number of professors teaching classes in the areas of nursing, political science, history, and communications have agreed to modify their syllabi for this upcoming semester to include classes dealing with Archbishop Tutu, his life, and his current work,” he said. “In addition, a number of AIC professors have agreed to team up with local high-school curriculum directors and social-studies and science teachers to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum that can be used by local schools prior to the Archbishop’s visit.”

A Web site has also been created ( to provide background information and ongoing updates about the upcoming lectures, as well as a public-health blog about the lecture series.