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Taking a Freedom Journey

Hamilton, Ohio – The Fitton Center’s Celebrating Self luncheon speaker series kicked off Black History Month as Woodrow “Woody” Keown Jr. discussed his role as President and Chief Operating Office of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

More than that, he issued a challenge to the audience – be personally responsible for becoming a conductor on the journey to freedom for all.

I would hope (audience members) would walk away with some inspiration to personally get involved with the process to disrupt systems of inequity,” he said. “So I would hope that they would leave with one thing that they could look at and say, ‘I understand, I want to learn more about this, and/or I want to go and do something about this.’”

In addition to talking about the Freedom Center and its goal to become a global leader inclusive freedom, Keown shared his own journey from the segregated Jim Crow-era south and his native Arkansas to his role overseeing the museum built where some 40,000 slaves crossed into freedom.

Keown went to college on a music scholarship – and said he still plays a little trumpet – but switched to accounting. He served in the United State Army and worked more than 35 years at Procter & Gamble. He’s been at the Freedom Center since late 2019 and guided the organization through the pandemic.

First proposed in 1994 – with ground broken in 2002 – the Freedom Center opened on the banks of the Ohio River in 2004. Now nearly 20 years into its existence, Keown honors the past but also looks forward. “We are actively working to do a refresh of the museum that is targeted for completion in mid-2025,” he said. “There will be new a new, permanent exhibition, along with refreshing our current, permanent exhibitions.”

Building Community Excellence through the Arts and Culture

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