MSU Denver

Breaking Free: Cultivating Conditions for Liberation

Schedule of Events

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

11:00 a.m.

Film Screening and Discussion (Healing Justice) | RSVP here

Tivoli Turnhalle
900 Auraria Parkway
Denver, CO 80204

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

9:30 a.m.

Film Screening and Discussion (Cracking the Codes) | RSVP here

11:00 a.m.

Campus Keynote followed by Lunch | RSVP here

Tivoli Turnhalle
900 Auraria Parkway
Denver, CO 80204

5:30 p.m.

Community Event and Awards | RSVP here

Shorter Community AME Church
3100 Richard Allen Court
Denver, CO 80205

Shakti Butler, Ph.D


Dr. Shakti Butler wearing a red necklace

Shakti Butler, Ph.D, is a visionary filmmaker, transformative learning educator, and Founder and President Emeritus of World Trust Educational Services, Inc., a non-profit transformative educational organization whose films, curricula, workshops, and programs are catalysts for institutional, structural, and cultural change.

As an inspirational speaker, skilled facilitator, and engaging trainer, Shakti is sought after by schools, universities, public and private organizations, and faith-based institutions. Rooted in love and justice, her interactive presentations serve as a catalyst for transformative learning about systemic inequity. Through multi-media, dialogue, case studies, and other participatory methods, Shakti supports participants to reframe and deepen the national conversation on race, foster collective engagement, and build leadership skills that can illuminate pathways towards healing, equity and a more sustainable future.

Shakti has produced five documentaries – The Way Home; Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible; Light in the Shadows; Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity, and her most recent, Healing Justice, which helped popularize a national conversation about justice, healing, and the youth-to-prison pipeline. These films form the core of World Trust’s teaching tools and have experienced increased exposure – over 30 million views of one clip alone – generating national dialogue and critical thinking that is impacting institutions and communities across the country. Dr. Butler also served as diversity consultant and advisor on the Oscar-winning Disney animated film, Zootopia, which focuses on challenging bias and systemic inequity.

40 Years of Honoring Rachel B. Noel's Legacy

The Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship was initiated in 1981 to foster multiculturalism, diversity, and academic excellence at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The professorship brings renowned scholars and artists of distinction to MSU Denver to conduct classes, seminars, performances, and lectures for students, faculty, and the larger Denver community.

Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Professors have included such luminaries as Princeton Professor Cornel West, pianist Billy Taylor, author Iyanla Vanzant, former president of Spelman College Johnetta Cole, jazz singer Diane Reeves, the late actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis, and executive editor of Ebony magazine Lerone Bennett Jr.

Past Professors

Shakti Butler: 2022-23 Calvin Mackie: 2021-22 Phoebe A. Haddon: 2020-21 Joy-Ann Reid: 2019-20

Rachel B. Noel Past Professors

Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship Event Recordings

Films about Rachel Noel

Great Colorado Women:

Rachel Bassette Noel

This film was sponsored by the MSU Denver Foundation’s Rachel Noel Endowment to share her story with the larger community. This film aired on PBS, channel 6, January 13, at 7:30 p.m.

Rachel B. Noel:

A Life Shared

This film was created by MSU Denver in the mid-2000s to celebrate the life and legacy of Rachel Noel.

About Professor Rachel B. Noel

Rachel Noel reading a book in a libraryA champion of the civil rights movement in Denver and in Colorado, Rachel Noel was the first African American woman elected to public office in Colorado, the first African American elected to the Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) Board of Education, the first African American to be a member and chair of the University of Colorado Board of Regents, and the first African American woman elected statewide in Colorado.

On April 25, 1968, she presented the DPS board with the Noel Resolution, recognizing that the “establishment of an integrated school population is desirable to achieve equality of educational opportunity.”  It directed the superintendent to develop “a comprehensive plan for the integration of the Denver Public Schools.”  Under a cloud of threats to Noel and her family, the resolution passed on May 17, 1968. The U.S. Supreme Court would eventually affirm Noel’s position in its landmark decision of 1973, Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1, making Denver the first city outside the American South to be instructed by the country’s highest court to address de facto segregation with school busing.

Noel also played a critical role in MSU Denver’s history. She came to MSU Denver as a teacher of sociology and African American Studies in 1969 and served as chair of the African American Studies Department from 1971 to 1980.

Rachel Noel at board meeting
(Photo By Steve Larson/The Denver Post)

Noel died at the age of 90 in 2008. During her lifetime and after, Noel’s legacy has inspired the MSU Denver community and beyond. In 1981, the University created The Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship to honor Noel.  A recipient of many awards and distinctions, Noel also lived to see a Denver Public Schools middle school named in her honor.  Although that middle school was closed, the building and campus is still called the Rachel B. Noel campus and is home to various charter programs. The Noel Community Arts School, housed in the former Montbello High School building, consists of both a high school and a middle school.

Noel was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Denver in 1993 and the University of Colorado in 2004 and an honorary degree from MSU Denver in 1981.  She held a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and a master’s degree from Fisk University. Noel’s other commendations and accomplishments were many, including:

  • Rocky Mountain News Top 100 Citizens of the Century, 2000
  • Denver Mayor’s Millennium Award, 2001
  • Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, 1996
  • Civil Rights Award, Anti-Defamation League, Mountain States Region, 2004
  • Pillars of Leadership Award, National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, 2002
  • Metropolitan State College’s Plain and Fancy Award, 1990, and Outstanding Female Faculty Member 1974-75
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, 1990
  • Civil Rights Commission, Colorado Advisory Committee; Mayor Wellington Webb’s Black Advisory Committee; Mayor Federico Peña’s Black Advisory Committee (chair)
  • Commissioner, Denver Housing Authority
  • Council Trenholm Memorial Award, National Education Association, 1978
  • Eddy Award, Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association, 1963