National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s CEO to emphasize mission of social justice at Hamilton event

Luncheon featuring Woody Keown in recognition of Black History Month.

Woodrow “Woody” Keown, Jr., president and chief operating officer at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will be the featured speaker at the Fitton Center on Wednesday as part of the “Celebrating Self” luncheon series.

Community members can start the celebration of Black History Month and learn more about the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as part of President Keown’s talk. Journal-News recently spoke with Keown by phone in a Q & A to find out about some of the highlights of his visit.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Woodrow “Woody” Keown, Jr.: I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. I went to undergraduate school at Arkansas State University. I started out as a music major on a scholarship, which was the only way I could get to college. My junior year, I switched to an accounting major. So, I graduated with undergraduate degree in accounting. I went into the military and was commissioned as an Army officer and decided to resign my commission and join Procter & Gamble and move to Cincinnati. I worked for Procter & Gamble for 35-and-a-half-years and retired from there. Then, I started a couple of businesses. One is a commercial real estate development business and the other one is a consulting business. I’ve done a lot of community work and somebody approached me about this job. I started in this role in November of 2019, right before Covid. I’m married. My wife’s name is Edna, and we have a daughter, Katrice, who lives in Seattle, Washington.

Q: What do you envision for the future at the Freedom Center?

A: My vision is that we are the preeminent cultural learning center in the area of inclusive freedom with a strong focus on social justice.

We are actively working to do a refresh of the museum that is targeted for completion in mid-2025. There will be new a new, permanent exhibition, along with refreshing our current, permanent exhibitions.

Q: Can you give us a glimpse of what you’ll be talking about at the Fitton Center?

A: I want to be sure that people understand our refresh mission statement that we launched softly about a year or so ago, which focuses more on social justice. I’ll plan to share our direction with regards to bringing our exhibitions up to 21st century standards with more immersive experiences, and things along those lines. I’ll also talk about things we are doing to connect the past with the present. We are working to develop our digital capabilities a lot more. We are also working to expand our market area and reconnect with our market area in a more proactive way. Additionally, we’ll be bringing the Freedom Center more outside the walls and going out into the community.

Q: As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s a good opportunity to remind us about the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which is right here in our backyard.  Can you touch on that?

A: I’m going to talk about our location. A lot of people don’t realize that our location is very important. This was a major area where enslaved people escaped to freedom and headed North. Some headed all the way up to Canada through here, but this area along the Ohio River was very important for enslaved people making it to freedom.

The other thing I will be talking about is systemic racism or structural racism, and the major systems that have perpetuated this for years, and what it’s going to take to disrupt those systems…I’m trying to get people to better understand how systemic racism is perpetuated through things like laws, rules, institutional policies, and so forth, that drive our educational, legal and political systems. So, those are a few of the key things I’ll address.

Q: What would you hope audiences would walk away with?

A: I would hope that they would walk away with some inspiration to personally get involved with the process to disrupt these systems of inequity. So, I would hope that they would leave with one thing that they could look at and say, I understand, I want to learn more about this, and/or I want to go and do something about this.

How to go

What: “Celebrating Self” with Woodrow “Woody” Keown, Jr.

When: 11:30 a.m. Wednesday

Where: The Fitton Center for Creative Arts, 101 S. Monument Ave., Hamilton

Cost: Tickets for the event are $19 for members; $25 for non-members. The luncheon speaker series will include a buffet lunch and local live music. Tickets are available advance at the Fitton Center, or online.

More info: or (513) 863-8873 ext. 110.

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