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Civil Rights Leader Joins Cal State Faculty

NORTHRIDGE, CA - Rev. James Lawson Jr., a prominent leader of the civil rights movement and recognized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the “greatest teacher of nonviolence in America,” will join Cal State Northridge as a visiting scholar for the 2010-11 academic year.

Rev. Lawson’s appointment is in conjunction with a year-long, campus-wide initiative on “Civil Discourse and Social Change,” organized by faculty and students at CaliforniaStateUniversity, Northridge.

Lawson will give eight public lectures and will facilitate eight student workshops over the course of the year.

Lawson’s first public lecture at CSUN, “Civil Discourse and Social Change: Where Are We Now?” will take place on Monday, Sept. 13, from 4:00-6:30 p.m. in the Armer Theater in Manzanita Hall 100. The general public is welcome and encouraged to attend. For more information, visit www.csun.edu/cdsc.

In light of national and state-wide debates on controversial topics such as the budget cuts to education and other public institutions, immigrant rights, U.S. involvement in two major wars and gay marriage, faculty and students at CSUN are taking a proactive stance to educate and equip the campus community with valuable skills for civil discourse and effective strategies for social change.

“The potential of the initiative is extraordinary,” said Kathryn Sorrells, professor of Communications and co-organizer. “We hope to create opportunities for our campus community to grapple with controversial social issues, develop productive communication skills and learn strategies for effective social change.

“The initiative is intentionally not tied to any specific classes,” said Sorrells. “We set it up to vary from Monday to Tuesday to reach as many classes as possible. At least 20 classes across the university are using resource material connected with Civil Discourse and Social Change that are listed on the website.

“There will be a variety of other guest speakers included under the initiative as the semester progresses—faculty members and departments are indentify and inviting guest speakers.”

Lawson was and still is an advocate for nonviolent social change. In 1951, Lawson declared himself a conscientious objector and refused to report for the draft. He served 14 months in prison after refusing to take either a student or ministerial deferment. After his incarceration he lived three years in India where he studied satyagraha, the principles of nonviolence resistance that Mohandas Gandhi and his followers had developed.

Upon his return to the U.S. in 1957, Lawson was recruited by Martin Luther King Jr. to assist with the civil rights movement. He began holding seminars to train student volunteers in Gandhian tactics of nonviolent direct action in Nashville, Tenn., emerging as a central architect of the movement. On the eve of his assassination, King called Lawson "the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world."

In 1974, Lawson moved to Los Angles to be the pastor of HolmanUnitedMethodistChurch. During the decades since, he has relentlessly spoken out against racism, unfair labor practices and U.S. military involvement throughout the world. In retirement, Lawson continues to speak out against injustice protesting with the Janitors for Justice in Los Angeles, with gay and lesbian Methodists in Cleveland and with Immigrant Rights groups around the country. Lawson has taught at various universities and in the last three years was a member of the faculty at VanderbiltUniversity.

 



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