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  • Writer's pictureALEXANDRA WHITE

Marvin Gilmore and Andrew DeFranza to speak at 2023 Commencement

On April 4, President Michael Alexander announced the speakers for the Class of 2023’s graduation. Andrew DeFranza, Executive Director of Harborlight Homes, will be the graduate commencement speaker on Friday, May 12, and Marvin Gilmore, a civil rights activist, will be the undergraduate speaker on Saturday, May 13. Alexander said in his email that “Andrew and Marvin are both transformative leaders whose efforts have directly affected our neighboring communities.”

Gilmore is an accomplished civil rights activist who served in World War II. Gilmore and his all-Black unit stormed the beaches of France in 1944 during D-Day. For his service, Gilmore earned four Battle Stars and the French Legion of Honor.

Gilmore’s passion for civil rights led him to fight against the Ku Klux Klan with Charles Evers and Bill Russell in 1964, traveling to Mississippi to help the state comply with the Civil Rights Act.

After serving, Gilmore co-founded the Unity Bank and Trust Company, the first Black-owned and operated commercial bank in Boston. Unity Bank and Trust Company is now the largest Black-owned bank in the United States. His entrepreneurship and dedication to social justice in the Boston area was recognized by the state of Massachusetts in 2013 when he was awarded the Commonwealth Leadership Award. The Commonwealth Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to communities in Massachusetts by encouraging economic growth, quality of life, and education.

Gilmore earned his undergraduate degree in percussion performance from the New England Conservatory of Music and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Endicott College.

Today, Gilmore is the Co-Founder and President of Western Front, a cannabis dispensary in Chelsea, MA. Western Front was created with the intention of providing job security to locals.

Graduate speaker Andrew DeFranza has a Master of Arts degree in Theology (Social Ethics) from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts degree in Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University. DeFranza has worked as the Executive Director of Harborlight Homes since 2007, where he advocates for sustainable housing opportunities to strengthen the community. Harborlight Community Partners provides homes for over 650 essential workers, elderly, disabled, or unhoused people in the North Shore.

DeFranza was inspired to create change after witnessing the challenges of wealth inequality at a homeless shelter in Atlantic City. This experience started his dedication to social justice. DeFranza has worked in nonprofit leadership roles for over 25 years and remains committed to his mission to create access to affordable homes.

Prior to his work at Harborlight Community Partners, DeFranza was the Executive Director of Guest House of Milwaukee, an organization that serves the unhoused in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


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