Civil rights activist lectures at CSUN

Angela Melero

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The Rev. James Lawson will be giving four public lectures this fall and spring, on the subject of “Civil Discourse and Social Change.”

Marta Lopez-Garza, coordinator of the Civil Discourse and Social Change program, said people often hear about Martin Luther King Jr. but not about the people around him.

“One man does not make a social movement,” Lopez-Garza said. “Among his leading strategists, particularly for the nonviolence and civil disobedience part, was the Rev. James Lawson.”

Kathryn Sorrel, a professor in the communications department, said the lectures are based on his vast experience as an activist and organizer.

Lawson is a retired Methodist minister and activist, famously known for his work alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

An avid follower of the peaceful teachings of Gandhi, Sorrel said Lawson used these spiritual values “along with his own knowledge and background and developed his own method of how to teach people what he calls nonviolent social change.”

Lawson began teaching his message of nonviolent direct action in the late 1950s when he conducted seminars for college students on methods of protest against segregation, Sorrel said.

Sorrel added the minister’s teachings are very spiritual.

“They’re philosophical,” she said. “He’s got a method. It’s theoretical but it’s also very spiritual.”

Along with his role in the Civil Rights Movement, Lopez-Garza said the minister was involved in human rights issues like the U.S. military’s involvement in South America in the 1980s and the more recent fights for immigration and gay and lesbian rights.

Sorrel said the March 4 events on campus, which resulted in a confrontation with local police, the arrest of several students, and the injury of a faculty member, sparked the idea of bringing a focus to a campus centered on working toward social change in ways that are effective, productive, and nonviolent.

When it came time to decide on who would conduct these lectures, Lopez-Garza said she thought Lawson’s message would be a perfect fit.

“When we were reflecting, we all discussed the status of things wright now, the concern for our students, and how best to approach our teaching and our curriculum in a way that we could work together to help our students go out into the world better prepared to address the social issues of our lives,” Lopez-Garza said.

Jose Gomez, Chicano/a studies major and member of MEChA, said Lawson’s personal approach on the changing of social dynamics comes at a critical time for the CSUN student body.

“It’s time for students to hear a more effective form of protest from someone with experience,” Gomez said. “I think it’s important to recognize that the students have a sense of urgency for change.”

Along with the tutorial lectures, Lopez-Garza said Lawson’s Civil Discourse and Social Change program will also include workshops that centralize on the main issues surrounding the students and faculty on campus.

She said students’ concerns are the center of both the lectures and the workshops.

“The workshops will largely address what is needed, based on the issues that the students are concerned with and what they want to address,” Lopez-Garza said.  “The lectures are these intellectual reflections and discussions on larger issues and the workshops are more about what we can do here and now and how do we go about doing it.”

Lopez-Garza, who has attended Lawson’s lectures in the past and has seen him at demonstrations over the years, said she could not think of a more positive example of effective social change for students.

“Who better to help all of us through these difficult times than someone who has gone through a most difficult time and, to a certain degree, emerged successful?” Lopez-Garza said. “(The Civil Rights Movement) spurred on all these other movements that led to social change. He was part of this constructive productive movement that created true change. Who better to be our teacher?”