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Equity and Social Justice Leaders to Deliver Commencement Keynotes

April 04, 2023

An award-winning civil rights activist and a respected advocate for equitable and sustainable housing will speak at Lasell University’s 169th Commencement ceremonies in May. 

Marvin Gilmore, Lasell Commencement SpeakerMarvin Gilmore (left), a civil rights activist, a distinguished Boston community development entrepreneur, and a decorated veteran will deliver the undergraduate Commencement address at Lasell University on May 13. Equitable housing advocate Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Homes, will deliver the graduate address on May 12.

Gilmore — a social justice pioneer and community activist — has fought for freedom, equality, and equity on the beaches of France on D-Day, shoulder to shoulder with Charles Evers and Bill Russell against the Ku Klux Klan, and in Boston and Cambridge to combat racial discrimination and build better opportunities for all. He co-founded Unity Bank and Trust Company, the first Black-owned and operated commercial bank in New England (now OneUnited, the largest Black-owned bank in the United States), and founded and owned the landmark Cambridge music venue, Western Front. As president and CEO of Community Development Corporation of Boston (CDC), a community-based non-profit economic development organization, he was a primary force in the economic development of Boston’s Southwest Corridor, Newmarket Industrial District, and CrossTown Industrial Park. In 2013, he received Massachusetts’ highest honor, the Commonwealth Leadership Award, for his extraordinary commitment to public service. Today, at age 99, Gilmore is president and co-founder of the “new” Western Front, a minority-owned and operated cannabis dispensary with three locations in Chelsea and Cambridge.  Gilmore holds a bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Endicott College.

DeFranza (below) has been associated with Harborlight Homes since 2007, where he developed, managed, and advocated for high quality, service-enriched affordable homes for essential workers, fixed-income elderly, disabled individuals, and those experiencing homelessness. He has testified before local and state legislators to address inequities among housing-insecure populations, as well as the systemic mechanisms that exclude and marginalize targeted populations. Harborlight provides homes for more than 650 people on Boston’s North Shore, with additional units in development to more than double the organization’s portfolio. Prior to his work at Harborlight, DeFranza was the executive director of Guest House, an organization serving the homeless in Milwaukee. He holds an M.A. in Theology (Social Ethics) from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and an M.A. in Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University.

Andrew DeFranza, Lasell Commencement Speaker

“To welcome two entrepreneurial pioneers to our campus who are focused on equity and opportunity for the disenfranchised is an honor and privilege,” said Lasell University President Michael B. Alexander. “What an incredible opportunity for our graduate students to hear from Andrew, whose work directly improves the lives of our neighbors in Boston and beyond, and for our undergraduates to learn from Marvin, a living legend whose passion for improving the lives of others is without unparallel.”

In addition to delivering keynote speeches, Gilmore and DeFranza will each receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University.

For more information on Lasell’s commencement exercises and keynote speakers, please visit: