May 02, 2008

Free conference to explore Cairo's past, present and future

by Pete Rosenbery


CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A public forum next week in Cairo will explore the city's rich history with an eye toward future opportunities.

"Cairo: Past, Present and Future," stems from efforts over the past several years involving Southern Illinois University Carbondale and community members.

The free conference is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursday, May 8, in the Cairo Junior/Senior High School gymnasium. Cairo native Rachel Jones, a journalist and media consultant, will deliver the keynote address.

SIUC's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and the SIUC School of Journalism are sponsoring the symposium.

Matt Baughman, assistant director of the institute, said the goal of the panel discussion is to encourage further dialogue among Cairo citizens and others about the city's history and future, using themes from the book, "The Cairo Project," as a catalyst.

Published late last year, the 80-page book is the result of seven semesters of work by students in the University's School of Journalism that vividly portrays the Alexander County community through photographs and in-depth reporting.

Next week's conference is a way to repay Cairo's citizens for opening their doors for the project, said William Freivogel, director, of the School of Journalism. The discussion is also important as the city looks to its future, he said.

The discussion, which leads into Jones' keynote address, looks at how the city's history and present plays into its future.

Jones' reporting background includes work for National Public Radio -- covering social policy affecting children, families, welfare and racial disparities in health care. She also worked for the Knight Ridder newspaper bureau in Washington, D.C., the St. Petersburg Times, and Detroit Free Press.

Jones recently finished an eight-month assignment as project director for Internews Network's training center in Gulu, Uganda; the effort is to build reporting and critical analysis skills of reporters covering the tentative peace process between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army. She helped train and mentor nearly 57 journalists from northern Uganda and Kampala in a variety of health, education and child welfare issues. She also conducted interview trainings for reporters covering HIV/AIDS issue in Ethiopia and Ghana, and for education reporters in Nigeria.

"Part of what is fantastic about Jones coming back to her hometown is she is very accomplished in journalism and has traveled the world. She'll share what she's learned about being a reporter and as someone who has left home to experience new places and people." Baughman said. "One of the real tributes to her returning home is most of the high school students will be in attendance for her keynote speech, and we expect her message to be one that encourages students to dream a little bit about what they want to do and to go after it -- building hope and inspiration to the students."

Baughman also notes the program is part of an institute commitment to provide service to the region by hosting programs in local communities. In May 2007, a symposium in Vienna examined the life and impact of former Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell, a Vienna native.

Admission is free, but registration is required for meal considerations. To register, contact institute project coordinator Christina Rich at 618/453-4078 or by email at by Tuesday, May 6.

The conference schedule, along with panel discussions is:

8 a.m. - Registration and continental breakfast.

9 a.m. - Welcoming remarks by William Freivogel, director, School of Journalism.

9:10 a.m. - Panel discussion moderated by Norma Ewing, associate dean, College of Education and Human Services.


  • Lynn Bird, principal, Cairo Junior/Senior High School.
  • Judson Childs, mayor, city of Cairo.
  • Preston Ewing, Cairo historian and author.
  • Jarel A. Loveless, senior in journalism, SIUC, and contributor to "The Cairo Project."
  • Stacey Thomas, project manager, Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone.
  • Robert H. Swenson, associate professor, SIUC School of Architecture.

11 a.m. - Introduction of keynote speaker Rachel Jones by Mike Lawrence, director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

Noon - Lunch, featuring multimedia presentation on "The Cairo Project."

For more information on "The Cairo Project," or the book, contact Freivogel at 618/536-3361, or visit

Contact Baughman at 618/453-4009 for more information on the program or visit