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Influential figures in older, newer civil rights struggles offer MLK keynotes

One of them described by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as “the greatest teacher of nonviolence in America,” leaders representing two generations of social activism offer keynote addresses during the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances at Bates College on Monday, Jan. 17.

The college’s theme for its 2011 King Day programming is Get Up, Stand Up: The Fierce Urgency of Now. The speakers are the Rev. James Lawson, a definitive figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and Asher Kolieboi, co-director of an organization that works against campus violence toward members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.

All MLK Day events at Bates are open to the public at no cost. For more information, please call 207-786-6400.


See a schedule of  King Day events at Bates.


“Our theme sets the title of a famous Bob Marley reggae song alongside a key phrase from Dr. King’s speech during the 1963 March on Washington,” explains MLK Committee co-chair Dale Chapman, assistant professor of music.

“We hope to emphasize how the urgency of our current local, national and global problems can be met only with an equally urgent call for debate and dialogue.”


Student members of the MLK Day Committee discuss this year’s theme and structure of the day.


Lawson speaks twice at Bates. He offers the sermon for the college’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Memorial Service of Worship at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, in the Bates College Chapel, 275 College St. To learn more about this service, please call 207-786-8272.

At 9:30 a.m. the following day, he presents the first keynote address of the college’s MLK Day events in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall, 75 Russell St. His topic: the continued importance of direct action and social justice in the 21st century.

Kolieboi provides the second Jan. 17 keynote at 2:30 p.m., also in the Olin auditorium. He’ll discuss challenges for social activists in contemporary American culture. Following each address, breakout sessions will afford an opportunity to discuss the speakers’ ideas and to consider future activism. These sessions, and a plenary session featuring Lawson and Kolieboi at 4:30 p.m., take place in Pettengill Hall, 4 Andrews Road (Alumni Walk).

The day also includes a student debate at 1 p.m. and a 7:30 p.m. performance by students.

The speakers

A college with a commitment to equality and social justice rooted in its very founding by abolitionists prior to the Civil War, Bates has long been distinctive in its observances of the King holiday. Regular classes are canceled and the entire campus turns its attention to issues around civil rights, social justice and King’s legacy.

This year, for the first time, Bates presents two keynote speakers instead of one and streamlines its programming to focus on those speakers’ ideas.

“James and Asher will lead us in a daylong sustained dialogue about how Bates, as stated in the college’s mission statement, might more fully engage in ‘responsible stewardship of the wider world,’ ” explains the Rev. Bill Blaine Wallace, the college’s multifaith chaplain and a member of the MLK Day Committee.

“James Lawson’s commitment to the philosophy and practice of nonviolence has not wavered over the course of 60 years,” he continues.

“And the principles and tactics of nonviolence, which he has taught tirelessly from the earliest days of the civil rights movement, have inspired the work and shaped the vision of Asher Kolieboi, co-director of the Equality Ride,” whose members deliver messages of acceptance and inclusion to colleges.

A Methodist preacher since his teens and a pacifist jailed for refusing military service during the Korean War, Lawson brought Gandhian principles of passive resistance to the civil rights movement in the 1950s. As a student at Vanderbilt University — from which he was expelled because of his activism, and to which he returned as a Distinguished University Professor — he trained the next generation of civil rights leaders, among them Diane Nash and John Lewis.

Kolieboi, named one of the “40 Under 40″ outstanding figures in the gay community by the magazine The Advocate, is also LGBT community coordinator at the Multicultural Resource Center at Oberlin College.

Lawson speaks twice at Bates. He offers the sermon for the college’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Memorial Service of Worship at 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, in the Bates College Chapel, 275 College St. To learn more about this service, please call 207-786-8272.


Watch a multimedia presentation about the 2010 MLK Day at Bates.



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