Talladega College band should march for America, says civil rights dean

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Dr. Bernard LaFayette led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s campaign to fight povery in 1968. He was a 1961 Freedom Rider and one of the leaders of Selma’s voting rights efforts, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Dr. LaFayette has taught Kingian nonviolence all over the world. He lives in Atlanta and Tuskegee, Ala.
     Back in the day, when ministers, maids, college students of all races and Jewish sympathizers boycotted buses and staged sit-ins at lunch counters, department stores and movie theaters, they had a plan.
     Part of that plan was disarm their detractors and win over their would be oppressors, says Dr. Bernard LaFayette, who led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s campaign in 1968 and the Selma voting rights movement among other social justice efforts.
     Dr. LaFayette makes a strong argument that the Talladega College band —  which accepted an invitation to march in Friday’s inauguration parade before Donald Trump was elected president — should take part in the parade, rather than boycott it, as some alumni have suggested.

“We have to work on teaching our young people that we have to win people over, said Dr. LaFayette. “If they disagree with what we stand for we don’t alienate ourselves from them, we need to engage them.”

         In a recent interview on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,”  Talladega College president Dr. Billy C. Hawkins said several individuals and groups had stepped forward to donate money to help the band pay for the trip to Washington, D.C.  Students at the small private college in Talladega, Ala are anxious to show the world their musical talents, Hawkins told Joyner.

Joyner established The Tom Joyner Foundation, a Dallas-based non-profit organization which raises money to send students to historically black colleges and universities.

         According to Fox News, more than $620,000 had been raised for the band. Several donations came in after Hawkins’ appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

When considering a boycott, Dr. LaFayette said the debate should always be, “What can one gain by not going and what do they accomplish if they do go.”

“We need all the support we can get for our black colleges,” he said. “If they are invited, they should accept the invitation and look at it as the presidency rather than the president.”

“You don’t have to agree with the president, but we agree that we need the presidency. It doesn’t mean they agree with everything Trump stands for.

During the protests of the 1950s and 1960s — which led to major legislation such as the Voting Rights Act — “we demonstrated the non-violent approach to dealing with adversaries. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got on the phone and talked to President John F. Kennedy and went to see President Lyndon B. Johnson. That’s the only approach we can use with Trump.”

Rev. C.T. Vivian…what a way to start the day!

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When it comes to brilliance and boldness, Rev. C.T. Vivian has few peers. I could listen to the man drop knowledge all day long. And I love the way he refers to everyone as “my brother” and “my sister.”

Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rev. Vivian chatting it up with Ryan Cameron and the rest of the V-103 morning crew. Rev. Vivian was one of the key figures in the Nashville Student Movement, the 1961 Freedom Rides and many other protests in the 1960s. He was holding court on the radio as only he can. Someone asked him about the use of the N-word, and I liked what he had to say. People will stop using it when we when are completely free, he said. By his estimation, we’re about half way there. The journey, he said, is about fulfilling our humanity; a phrase I’ve heard him use before.

I wish there was a way to expose every young person to Rev. Vivian. I’ve got to believe they’d be inspired by his passion and motivated by the fact that at 89 years young he is still going hard. His current job is national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the nation’s oldest Civil Rights organizations. He and Dr. Bernard LaFayette, the SCLC’s chairman of the board, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 60s to desegregate public facilities and to push for major civil rights legislation. Later, they held voter registration campaigns in some of the most segregated cities in the south.

Last month, I spent a few hours with Rev. Vivian and Dr. LaFayette at Morehouse College in a training session on nonviolent social change. It was a Friday night and only a few student leaders at the Atlanta University Center decided to show up. What a missed opportunity! Whenever I’m around Rev. Vivian, I like to be quiet and listen. Each time we talk, I learn something new. At this gathering, he talked about how Malcolm X was sent to meet with Ku Klux Klan members. Nation of Islam leaders wanted the Klan’s help in obtaining land to create a separate nation for black Muslims. Both groups believed in the separation of the races but why in the world would any black organization or religious group want to join forces with the Klan, a group whose members terrorized and murdered black folks?

Rev. Vivian is living, breathing history. Next month, the longtime Atlanta resident will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a president can bestow. Rev. Vivian — who punctuates every other sentence with “Right?” — told us President Barack Obama is well read when it comes to the strategies and tactics used during the Civil Rights Movement. Obama asked Vivian how they were able to succeed with the non violent protests. The key, said Rev. Vivian, is believing in something so passionately you are willing to die for it.

Back in 1965, in Selma, Ala. Rev. Vivian was punched in the face by the town’s sheriff when he tried to register black voters. But a bloody face didn’t stop the him from continuing to challenge the sheriff.

When a celebration was being planned in Jackson, Miss. in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Rev. Vivian told me he planned to boycott the event because of then-Gov. Haley Barbour’s racial politics. Furthermore, he said, he didn’t want to be used by Mississippi officials intent on showing how far they’d come since the days they jailed hundreds of Freedom Riders in a state prison for “Breach of the Peace.”

I’m sure Rev. Vivian will have a few choice words for the Washington crowd when he receives the Presidential Medal next month. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.

Non-violence worked in the 1960s and it can work today

Jonathan Lewis has trained some of South America’s most notorious criminals to embrace non- violence. He’s done similar work in South Africa, Nigeria, Chicago and Wisconsin, where he is training college students and faculty on handling conflicts peacefully.

It’s easy to see how college students might embrace nonviolence. They are young and generally open to change. But what about people for whom violence is a way of life? How do you get them to see the merits of changing their behavior?

Lewis, a.k.a. “Globe”, says it’s a matter of appealing to their intelligence and getting them to open their mind to a new way of responding to conflict. He is a Level 4 trainer in “Kingian” nonviolence. Named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it has used successfully to change people’s behavior throughout history.

If you saw “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, you’ll remember the Gaines family sending their son Louis to Fisk University in Nashville. While there, he learned non-violent social resistance from Dr. James Lawson, who modeled his training on the nonviolent civil disobedience practiced by India’s great leader, Mahatma Ghandi. The students used the training in sit-ins and other demonstrations.

Lewis, 36, lives in Selma, Ala. and works with students on an Alternative Spring Break program where they learn nonviolent conflict resolution tactics to take back to their respective universities. He is also working with high school students in Selma, where segregation persists and job opportunities are few.

He has founded an organization called Positive Peace Warrior Network. It’s a concept teenagers can relate to because everyone likes the idea of being a warrior. He suggests students view warriors as people who are committed, strong, honorable and courageous.

Young people, Lewis says, want to deal with current day problems like bullying and gang violence differently, but they often don’t know how. If you can train athletes and other popular students in high school to resolve conflicts differently, they can serve as peer mentors, he says.

At a college prep school in Chicago, students have been practicing “Kingian” nonviolence for several years. As a result, there has been a 90 percent reduction in school violence on the campus.

I met Lewis in Washington, D.C. the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream speech.” He and others were brought together by Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., for a commitment ceremony.

Dr. LaFayette, 73, is a senior scholar in residence at Emory University and serves and chairman of the board for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He has worked all over the world with people who previously solved their problems with violence. In 1968, he led Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign and pledged Dr. King that he would continue his work. It is a commitment he lives daily.

On a bright, beautiful Sunday morning, we stood just outside the “Mountain of Despair”, part of the monument to Dr. King on the National Mall. Monument designers created a stone of hope cut from a mountain of despair. The design captures the spirit of our people in the 1950s and 1960s, when they struggled to break down stereotypes and long-held prejudices by demonstrating their humanity.

The weekend was a time for inspiration and action. It required us to think about ways we can recommit to the ideals of Dr. King.

Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta and Dr. LaFayette were part of the Nashville Student Movement to desegregate lunch counters, movie theaters and other public facilities. The disciplined and well-trained students in Nashville prevailed, breaking the back of segregation in that city. Many of the demonstrators, including Rev. Vivian and Dr. LaFayette, joined the 1961 Freedom Rides, which tested federal laws enacted to desegregate Greyhound and Trailways buses. More than 400 students and adults of all races made the rides through the Deep South where they met with violence and imprisonment.

Watching “The Butler” I wondered if I could keep my composure if someone splashed hot coffee in my face or poured ketchup in my hair or worse. And I’ve been thinking about this: what do I believe so strongly in that I’d be willing to die for?

To learn more about the Positive Peace Warrior Network go to http://www.ppwn.org


The six principles of “Kingian” nonviolence, as taught by Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr.:

— You can’t practice nonviolence unless you have courage.

— You have to be willing to accept suffering for the sake of the cause. For instance, if you want to try to reach a goal, such as making an ‘A’ in a class, you can’t go out and party, you’ve got to sacrifice.

— Attack the forces of evil, not the person who is doing the evil. “When we did the Freedom Rides, we weren’t there to confront those people who were attacking us; we were attacking the system that allowed discrimination to take place, ” said Dr. LaFayette.

— Accept suffering without retaliation for the cause.

— Avoid violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. “Sometimes emotional and psychological scars take longer to heal than others,” according to Dr. LaFayette.

— The universe is on the side of justice.