March 3, 2016

Greatness Today and Greatness Tomorrow: A Visit from Reverend James Lawson


I missed an important moment last week.  A very important event in which our upper elementary classes participated. A conversation that rendered students speechless and made teachers cry.

Friends' School was honored to host civil rights leader Reverend James Lawson. Reverend Lawson was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and is the grandfather of our very own 2nd grader James. I was saddened not to be in attendance, but heard all about it from many members of our community.

Rev. Lawson spoke to the students and staff about his lifelong work on the tactics of nonviolent direct action and his work during the Civil Rights Movement.  He emphasized King’s commitment to non-violence and recanted the tale of one moment that changed his life forever.

When young Jimmy Lawson was eight years old, he grew frustrated with a friend and hit him. His mother asked him, “What good did that do?” He reflected upon his mother’s words and, at that moment understanding that his actions did not do any good, swore never again to strike out to hit someone else.

He brought impactful messages to the children. He talked about three special words that we should all hold dear: love, compassion, and truth.

He discussed his work in the civil rights movement and told our students that leaders like him have left some of the work for them to do.  We’re still working on civil rights, particularly the rights of women and the LGBT community. He pointed out that women still only earn 83 cents to every dollar that men earn.

Lawson shared stories of his friendship with Dr. King, which lasted from 1955-1968 when King was assassinated. They worked side by side towards a more just society, but also enjoyed singing,  swimming, and playing basketball together. King’s and Lawson’s dedication to non-violence made them a lot of enemies. In his words, it was this different viewpoint that made some people angry and led to King’s death.

He assured his audience, our students, that they are the change that needs to happen and told them that one of them could be America’s next great president. We come from the whole world”, he told them. “You represent our greatness today and the greatness tomorrow. Stay cool and do not allow your life to imitate the mistreatment, so you have the power in your life. You can decide that's the way I'm going to live your life.”

Ahead of the visit, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders studied the PBS film "A Force More Powerful" which featured Rev. Lawson's work on the civil rights movement.

You can read more about Reverend Lawson here: http://www.pbs.org/…/amer…/freedomriders/people/james-lawson

Following his talk, many of students lined up to shake the hand that had shaken the hand of Dr. Martin Luther King.


We are very grateful for Reverend Lawson’s presence at our school.

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