CRRJ colleague, Charlotte Mathews-Nelson honored during Martin Luther King Day Celebration

In honor of this year’s Martin Luther King Day, Northeastern University hosted the annual “A Tribute to the Dream” event on Thursday, January 11, 2024, in which CRRJ’s esteemed colleague and program coordinator for Northeastern Law’s Center for Law, Equity and Race (CLEAR), Ms. Charlotte Mathews-Nelson, was honored for her 45 years of service.

The ceremony, commemorating the life, work, and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was held on the Boston campus and streamed live to the university’s 13 global campuses.

President Joseph E. Aoun gave his remarks, following a thoughtful conversation with Imari K. Paris Jeffries, President and CEO of Embrace Boston, and Richard Harris, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Northeastern students, faculty and staff filled the 17th Floor of East Village for the annual A Tribute to the Dream event to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 11, 2023. The event featured Imari K. Paris Jeffries, PhD, President and CEO, Embrace Boston and Richard Harris, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, and a musical performance by Shaleeca Joseph, senior, John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University
During the annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 11, 2023, Mathews-Nelson's work was honored by James R. Hackney, dean of Northeastern Law. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.

Musical performances from pianist Shaleeca Joseph, a senior at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, who immigrated from Haiti in 2012, provided a moving soundtrack to the afternoon.

Jeffries and Harris discussed the evolution of “The Embrace” — the memorial to Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King erected on Boston Common last year. Mathews-Nelson is among 69 civil rights leaders whose names are inscribed on the paving stones surrounding the monument, in honor of their contribution to the ongoing fight for racial equity.

After an introduction by undergraduate student Jaela Eaton, who called Mathews-Nelson “a fierce leader and advocate of civil rights,” Mathews-Nelson took to the stage to receive a citation dedicated to her and read aloud by James R. Hackney, dean of the Northeastern School of Law.

“I am not normally speechless,” said Mathews-Nelson, “but I’m very emotional on listening to how I’ve been so fortunate, perhaps by design, to do what was put in my hands to do.”

Mathews-Nelson, whose career at Northeastern began in 1979, spoke of her pride and joy in seeing how the university’s relationship with Greater Boston has evolved and strengthened over decades.

“Thank you for being my extended family for 45 years,” said Mathews-Nelson. “I am humbled that this is happening today.”

CRRJ and CLEAR staff were present at the ceremony honoring Mathews-Nelson. From left to right: Professor Rose Zoltek-Jick, Malcolm Clarke, Charlotte Mathews-Nelson, Olivia Strange, Dr. Deborah A. Jackson.

Mathews-Nelson, born during the Jim Crow era in Jefferson County, Florida, was raised in Dade County by politically active parents, involved with neighborhood groups focused on attaining Black voting rights. After graduating high school, Mathews-Nelson was sent to care for an aunt in Brockton, Massachusetts.

Upon completion of her studies at business school, Mathew-Nelson soon found discrimination alive and well in the North just as it was in the South.

Mathews-Nelson interviewed for a position as a bookkeeper at a military uniform supplier, only to be told “flatly to my face that they weren’t ready to hire anyone Black in the administrative office,” she told the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project in a recent interview.

She took a job pressing uniforms, but her experiences strengthened her commitment to activism and lifelong work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In the early 1980s, Mathews-Nelson brought the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics (AACT-SO) to Boston, and served as the NAACP’s New England Area Conference president for five consecutive terms, overseeing branches in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.  

Mathews-Nelson has worked in Northeastern’s Graduate School of Education, the Executive Vice President’s Office of Strategic Planning, and Career and Employment Services. She has also served as co-chair of DEI affinity group, the Black Faculty and Staff Association. While working at the university, she attended night-school and earned her BS in business administration. 

She joined the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, in 2022 and currently supports CLEAR Director Dr. Deborah A. Jackson, organizing conferences, workshops and events.

“I hope that it is an example, especially to the young people in the room,” said Mathews-Nelson last week. “You can do this if you have a heart, and a soul, and a mind of service. Thank you.”

Mathews-Nelson received a citation dedicated to her and read aloud by James R. Hackney, dean of the Northeastern School of Law. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University
Mathews-Nelson said she was "humbled" by the recognition she received. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

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