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Honorary Doctors of Laws


October 30, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

Frederick Buechner spoke of the place where "deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." For Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright, Buechner's place is familiar ground, a place they discovered together and continue to chart fearlessly in pursuit of social and economic justice.

It is a long way from an office in the back seat of a VW Beetle to running a statewide organization with 100 employees in six cities, assets of more than $800 million, and a record of lending more than $1.6 billion to low-income individuals and businesses across the country. To get there takes business acumen, certainly. It takes creativity, determination, and leadership. But most of all it takes passion.

Martin Eakes has been called a visionary who won't take no for an answer. Wrote one friend, "His temper flashes like a solar flare; he attacks problems with zeal; and his loves friends and family with unbanked loyalty." Once described as "serene and saintly," Bonnie Wright is a natural social entrepreneur, a relentless advocate for equality.

Legend has it that, as Davidson undergraduates, they met one night on campus when Bonnie came upon Martin tied to a flagpole. The precise circumstances of this encounter have been lost in the mists of time, but what we do know is this: the partnership that sparked that night between Martin's vision of social justice and Bonnie's natural activism has, for many, changed the world.

Martin took a double major in physics and philosophy at Davidson, graduating Phi Beta Kappa before going on to earn a law degree from Yale and a public policy degree from Princeton. Bonnie graduated from Davidson in economics and spent a year teaching and promoting economic development in Ecuador before she received a management degree from Yale.

"The way it's always been done" were fighting words to these two. Having grown up in Greensboro and Atlanta during the civil rights struggle, Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright were profoundly aware of the discrepancies that existed between the haves and have-nots. They set out with their degrees, using their talent and knowledge not to better themselves, but to take on the daunting challenge of closing the wealth gap between rich and poor.

Recognizing that lack of assets limits choice and opportunity, they developed a plan to help low-income North Carolinians buy homes and start businesses. In 1980, Bonnie and Martin set up shop in the backseat of their car and founded the Durham-based Center for Community Self-Help. They focused not on property but on people, the men and women who would own those homes and businesses, and the power such ownership would place in their hands. Since then, this community development lender and its related institutions have provided over $1.6 billion in financing to over 23,000 homebuyers, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

From what started with $77 raised at a bake sale and courageous tenacity, Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright built Self-Help into a nationally-recognized organization that continues to develop innovative programs for low-wealth families, including loan programs to child-care centers and charter schools, and a secondary market loan program that has become a national model for expanding homeownership in partnership with Fannie Mae and the Ford Foundation.

In each of these ventures, Bonnie Wright and Martin Eakes have striven to promote self-sufficiency, seeking ways to remove the obstacles that keep people from being the best they can be. Self-Help is a laboratory for economic development--experimenting to find out what works and advocating for change in the public and private sectors. Along the way, these efforts have garnered attention and accolades ranging from a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and a $50 million Ford Foundation grant, to a request for help from the U.S. Senate Banking Committee toward developing federal community development legislation.

Epitomizing the Quaker admonition to "Let your life speak," Bonnie expanded her focus in 1991 to removing barriers to success that are perhaps even more complex than economic ones. She founded a chapter of the non-profit National Coalition Building Institute, leading workshops in conflict resolution, diversity appreciation, prejudice reduction, and leadership development. She was the key founder of Durham's Maureen Joy Charter School, one of the earliest and most successful charter schools in the state. Combining shrewd management with fiery purpose, she has chaired the board and served as principal and financial director of the school. With sixty percent of its students now performing above grade level, Maureen Joy has been cited as one of the most improved K-8 schools in North Carolina.

Yet another Wright-Eakes project is their two children, Justin and Carlyn, now teenagers. These young people have grown up in the midst of their parents' commitment to empower others, experiencing the diverse economic and cultural mixture in Durham's public schools. Their attitudes and friends reflect their parents' vision of a just society.

Because you have used your education, talent, and experience not to better yourselves, but to give others the tools to move forward;

Because you have been courageous pioneers in the wilds of poverty, charting the way and inspiring others to follow your path;

Because you are have worked to open the doors of education to those who may otherwise have found them barred;

Because you seek peaceful and judicial solutions, erasing barriers and forming partnerships that allow people to discover their own power;

And because you represent the truest spirit of service and leadership so cherished by your alma mater, Davidson College is proud to honor you and names you, Martin Daniel Eakes and Barbara Marie Wright, Doctors of Laws, honoris causa.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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