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November 30, 2023

Buie Seawell Makes the Big Ideas Fun

Buie Seawell has a Jimmy Carter-esque blend of humility, idealism, Southern elegance, and jovial humor.

That alone would make him a terrific instructor. But when you add his decades-long experience in politics, social justice, the environment, media, law, and ethics – a deep well of stories and insights that pour forth in a gentle North Carolina accent – you have a fan favorite whose classes never fail to please. 

“The Enrichment Program – it’s a sandbox. It’s where you can play with big ideas, with people who care,” he says. “I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that.”

Seawell is a well-known figure in Colorado politics, having served in Governor Richard Lamm’s administration and as Senator Gary Hart’s Chief of Staff. He was chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party from 1985 to 1989.

But his experience hasn’t made him jaded – far from it. In his topics for Enrichment Program classes, he returns again and again to issues of justice, community, ethics, and how people can, even in a deeply divided society, work together as human beings.

“Teaching for the Enrichment Program is always fun. They let me get away with stuff nobody else would,” he laughs. “When I say to [the program director] that I want to talk about this or that, they’ve said ‘Do it!’”

His course this February is called A Citizen’s First Aid Kit for the 2024 Election. He and his co-instructor, Dominic Dezzutti, help us get through another election year using four tools to help navigate prickly political discussions: humor, civil respect, prioritizing self-government, and care for our fellow citizens. Seawell considers humor to be a critical component of good citizenship.

“We need a sense of humor that is not mean,” he says. “The scariest words to me as a politician are ‘That’s no laughing matter.’ My God, if you can’t laugh about it, you can’t get the perspective to deal with it.”

It’s not hard to hear the Presbyterian minister that Seawell once was, early in his career. His first church was in Alabama, and he “got himself into trouble” engaging in civil rights issues and participating in the Selma-to-Montgomery march. With his next congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he helped Howard Lee become the first Black mayor of a major Southern city.

He came to Denver in 1971 to attend the University of Denver law school, got a job with a local environmental firm, and also began side projects to create more than 50 environmental programs for Rocky Mountain PBS. The connections he made led to his career in politics and later in academia, teaching business law and ethics at the Daniels Business College.

As a matter of fact, Seawell helped create public programming at DU that would inform the genesis of the Enrichment Program. Following 9/11, he helped create the Bridges to the Future lectures that hosted national political figures in a community-wide public forum. Later, more public not-for-credit classes would become the Enrichment Program.

“The Enrichment Program is the university facing outward and not facing inward,” Seawell says. “It’s become a piece of the community and that’s a big achievement.”

Seawell’s love of big ideas was evident then and has only grown deeper in the popular classes he has taught nearly every year of the Enrichment Program’s 20-year history. To attend his classes, it seems, is to experience the Enrichment Program’s tagline come to life: “Simply for the Love of Learning.”

Denver-area residents can get a taste of Seawell’s inspiring teaching by attending the free Feed Your Curiosity series on Jan. 9, or by enrolling in A Citizen’s First Aid Kit for the 2024 Election on February 20 and 27. Register here.

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