Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Dr. Vincent Harding Returns to SUA
In March, the SUA community had a remarkable opportunity through funding from the Luis and Linda Nieves Family Foundation to welcome Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Dr. Vincent Harding, American historian, scholar of religion and society, and renowned Civil Rights activist for his third visit to SUA.
Dr. Vincent Harding holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. From 1961 to 1964, Dr. Harding and his late wife, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, worked in various capacities as full-time teachers, activists, and negotiators in the southern Freedom Movement. They were co-workers and friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other Civil Rights leaders and participants. Dr. Harding co-wrote one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s most courageous speeches, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," delivered in 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City. In 1968, Coretta Scott King asked him to help her organize the Institute of the Black World, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center located in Atlanta, where he became its first director. Dr. Harding also served as Chairperson of the History and Sociology Department at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, for several years.
Dr. Harding and his family have been involved in various movements for peace and justice in this country and overseas. In 1981 he joined the faculty of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, serving as Professor of Religion and Social Transformation for over twenty years. He was the senior academic advisor to the PBS documentary television series, Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years. He and his wife, Rosemarie, founded The Veterans of Hope Project, a center for the study of religion and movements for social change focused especially on gathering the filmed autobiographical accounts of women and men who have worked for decades in spirit-based movements for compassion and social change. Dr. Harding has written several books including, Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement; Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero; and We Changed the World, a history of the Freedom Movement for young people. He also wrote There is a River, his classic history of the early Black struggle for freedom, which has been in print for three decades.
Dr. Harding conducts workshops and retreats on the connections between spirituality and social responsibility and encourages what he calls "democratic conversations" among diverse peoples throughout the United States. He recently appeared on a primetime special PBS series hosted by Tavis Smiley featuring people, places, and events that have transformed America as a nation.
Campus Visit: Dr. Harding was warmly welcomed by SUA faculty at a luncheon in his honor at Student Center 401 on Monday, March 22nd. On Tuesday evening, March 23rd, Dr. Harding presented a lecture, "Is America Possible?" in 216 Pauling Hall. The Student Executive Council hosted a luncheon for Dr. Harding on Wednesday, March 24th, and he attended an informal afternoon tea and discussion with students in the Office of the Dean of Students. Dr. Harding also taught a 3-day seminar for students entitled, Avatar, Lessons for the Future?
3-Day Seminar: Fourteen students attended Dr. Harding's 3-day seminar, Avatar, Lessons for the Future?" Together they explored the possible lessons the film may offer for their lives in the present moment. Each participant of the seminar was asked to view the award-winning film, AVATAR in its 3-D format and to write a paper offering their own alternative ending for the film.
Evening Lecture: "Is America Possible?"
A lecture entitled, "Is America Possible?" was presented by SUA Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Dr. Vincent Harding on Tuesday, March 23rd in Pauling Hall 216 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The event was sponsored by the Luis and Linda Nieves Family Foundation and marked the third visit to Soka University for Dr. Harding. Dr. Harding expressed his appreciation for his return to SUA and his gratitude to his seminar students. He has been deeply impressed, stimulated, and inspired by his students and thankful to the administration for "creating this space-this good place to teach and to learn."
Dr. Harding invited each person to give their full name, early childhood home location, and what their hopes or expectations were when they saw the title of his lecture, "Is America Possible?" A meaningful conversation began as people shared their childhood locations and ideas about the possibilities of the lecture. Dr. Harding reflected that any gathering, whether lecture, classes, or meetings can be a way we ‘find' each other, to talk with each other, to understand each other. He emphasized the value of exchanging ideas and the influence of music as a way to inspire hope and change. He then played a song written by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, creator of the performing group, "Sweet Honey in The Rock" entitled, "Ella's Song." The song was dedicated to Ella Jo Baker, who was an early teacher of the Freedom Movement and believed in the potential of young people. The song contained Ella Jo Baker's words of guidance, beginning with, "We who believe in freedom, cannot rest."
Recalling a quote from an African poet, "I am a citizen of a country that does not yet exist," Dr. Harding encouraged everyone to think about the possibility that we are part of an America still waiting to be born, still being shaped into what it might be. Dr. Harding reflected that the current restlessness now seen in this country may be signs that something is trying to be born in America. Moreover, we are seeing an America where the old boundaries of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and faith are being crossed and dissolved and where new dreams are trying to replace the old ones; we are now recreating the meaning of the American Dream.
Dr. Harding shared his vision of SUA as a place where we can discover what it means to be human and to strive towards our best humanity. He views SUA, at its best, as a reflection of all the new communities in America that he called ‘communities of hope' trying to come to life with new ideas of supporting the earth, finding new ways of living where we feel no need to dominate, and beginning to create something that does not yet exist. He envisioned SUA not as a ‘hiding place' surrounded by its natural beauty, but as a ‘starting place' in discovering what it means to live out SUA's greater mission and in learning how to be ‘midwives' for this new America trying to be born.
Dr. Harding then invited everyone to offer their ideas of what still needs to be birthed for a new and better America. A thought-provoking discussion centered on a variety of suggestions, including equal opportunity for quality education, changes in the economic system, global policies and goals, art, and spiritual grounding. Dr. Harding encouraged students to "not be afraid to dream" and to "keep wrestling with the questions in a continuation of the conversation" initiated during his lecture.
Dr. Harding concluded his presentation with a music selection originating from the Freedom Movement during the Civil Rights struggles in Birmingham, Alabama, entitled, "I'm On My Way to Freedom Land." The highly-spirited lyrics voiced hope and a determination for action and change. Following his lecture, Dr. Harding signed books and conversed with students and faculty.