A Living Legacy

The REHR Center, founded in 2020, builds on a tradition at SUA to engage in inquiry, research, and constructive dialogue related to race, ethnicity, human rights, and their intersections. Notable guests like Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and José Ramos-Horta exemplify a living legacy.

  • Rosa Parks speaks during panel

    Rosa Parks

    Dec. 5, 1992: Civil Rights for American Ethnic Minorities: An Historic and Future Perspective

    Rosa Parks, the mother of American civil rights movement, visited the Calabasas campus of Soka University for a panel discussion with Irene Tovar, Ron Wakabayashi, Glenda Ahhaitty, James M. Lawson, moderated by Tobie Marsh. She shared her Montgomery bus boycott experiences in the panel discussion titled “Civil Rights for American Ethnic Minorities: An Historic and Future Perspective.” She recalled distasteful segregation practices in her youth and stressed her belief that “freedom and equality…should be for everybody, that all regardless of race or regardless of where we were located should have the same opportunity for education, for employment and every aspect of our lives should be equal.”

    She asserted that her refusal to give up her seat at the front of a bus in 1955 was her individual proclamation that people should no longer be treated in a discriminatory manner. Following the panel discussion, Mrs. Parks revisited the Calabasas campus in January 1993. During her visit, Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of SUA, welcomed her and they engaged in a dialogue. Given their fruitful dialogue and strong mutual respect, Mr. Ikeda invited Mrs. Parks to Japan. She gladly accepted his invitation and in May 1994, Mrs. Parks visited Soka University in Tokyo.


  • Coretta Scott King surrounded by Soka students

    Coretta Scott King

    Oct. 12, 1995: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

    Coretta Scott King, a civil rights leader and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr., gave the Soka  community a lecture titled “The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.” Mrs. King shared that while her husband is remembered as the leader of the civil rights movement in the US, he also had a profound dream for the world—a world in which “bitter conflicts would be replaced by a new spirit of international brotherhood and sisterhood.” Dr. King believed that an organized nonviolent movement was the only way to bring such a global community into being. Mrs. King pointed out that the legacy of the civil rights movement has already transcended national boundaries to bring greater democracy around the world. In this context, she urged the students to become global citizens, “informed and motivated to support human rights and peace movements in every nation” and to live “the dream in the spirit of nonviolence.”


  • Shirley Chisholm

    Hon. Shirley Chisholm

    March 23, 1998: Women Challenging the Status Quo in Politics

    Shirley Chisholm, an American politician who represented New York’s 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983, visited the Calabasas campus on March 23, 1998. Her address was titled “Women Challenging the Status in Politics.” With Mrs.  Chisholm’s deep experience as a title IX activist, her speech not only informed students about her intellectual pursuits, but inspired youth to combine action with wisdom. At this event, she shared key insights from her experience as the first Black woman in Congress. She contended that the status quo for equal opportunities still has a long way to go, and expressed her trust in the upcoming generation. While talking about college students, Mrs. Chisholm said, “our vast reserve of energy, talent, curiosity and creativity is sorely needed by a nation surrounded with economic instability and inequality.”

    As a strong believer in and activist for equality, Mrs. Chisholm expressed her dream when the judgment of individuals is based on one’s experiences and education. Furthermore, she hopes for an America where the deep-seated fear of violence and victimization are no longer justified. She wanted to be remembered as a woman who dared to believe in herself.


  • Jose Ramos-Horta

    José Ramos-Horta

    April 20, 1999: Peacemaking: The Power of Non-violence

    José Manuel Ramos-Horta is an East Timorese politician who was the president of East Timor from 2007 to 2012. For his work “towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor,” he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. He visited the Calabasas campus during a year in which there were more than 30 active international conflicts, including the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. In his opening remarks, he pointed out that while the historical relations between two nations play a central role in the determination of a conflict, only dialogue can solve them effectively. He said, “the best deterrence against war is dialogue and cooperation among states in the search for solutions to common problems.”

    At the end of his address, Mr. Ramos-Horta listed the ways to support Southeast Asian people at the time, such as by boycotting goods that are made at the expense of exploited workers. His address was recorded just a few years before East Timor gained independence in 2002.


  • Betty Williams surrounded by SUA students

    Betty Williams

    September 18, 2007: Peace in the World Is Everybody’s Business

    In 1976, Betty Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against violence in the ‘Troubles,’ a regional conflict that involved political, ethnic, and religious dimensions in her native Northern Ireland. On September 18, 2007, Mrs. Williams presented a lecture, titled “Peace in the World Is Everybody’s Business” to the SUA community. She started the lecture by sharing her favorite expression: “Arms are for hugging not killing.” Her good-hearted nature generated a warm response from the audience. In addition, Mrs. Williams stressed “peace in the world is created when people individually make the decision that this is not the kind of world they want to live in, and they’re going to change it.”

    In other words, peace in the world is everybody’s business, and she pointed out that apathy represents the greatest threat the world faces. In the lecture, she also shared her experience of visiting a hospital in Iraq during the Iraq war, where she saw horrible suffering of innocent civilians, especially women and children. Encounters such as these further advanced her advocacy for the rights of children. In action that brought together her ideas and experiences, Ms. Williams introduced her project to build the City of Peace in Italy that strives to secure children’s health and well-being. 

  • Damodar SarDesai

    Damodar R. SarDesai

    April 14, 2008: India & Pakistan: Neighbors Can be Friends

    Damodar R. SarDesai, emeritus professor of history at UCLA, addressed the SUA community on April 14, 2008. This period was crucial in South Asian politics as tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear nations, were rising after domestic political instability. During this period, Dr. Sardesai insisted on a sustainable solution. Although there has been war and political discord between Indians and Pakistanis, he said “there is an overarching unity … based on common history, language, cuisine, music and culture.” Therefore, he pointed out that the peoples of these two countries must elevate their rigid views of the other in order to recognize that they are not so different after all. “The decision-makers in India and Pakistan have generally remained quite rational and responsible during crises,” while mitigating the possibility of a nuclear war, he said. As a telling sign of peace, he explained that only a mutual decision to ban nuclear weapons will ensure that the building blocks of peace form new relations for a more sustainable and peaceful world. 

  • Kevin Clements

    Kevin Clements

    October 3, 2014: The Costs of Violence and the Benefits of Building a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence

    Kevin Clements, chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and director of the New Zealand National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand, gave a lecture titled “The Costs of Violence and the Benefits of Building a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence.” In his talk, he presented the economic costs of violence containment in 2013, which were estimated to be $9.8 trillion, equivalent to 11.3% of Gross World Product and $1,350 per person. If we reduce such costs of violence by 25%, an additional $2.45 trillion could have been spent on “laying the foundations of more peaceable, more sustainable, and more just societies.”

    In this context, Dr. Clements stressed that violence is often driven by the politics of fear, in which imaginary fear of violence, reflected in the costs of violence containment, exacerbates the conditions for peace. As a solution for peacebuilding, Dr. Clements emphasized a reinvigorated humanistic vision in which people and communities are not trapped by dualistic polarity but cultivate the capacity to imagine themselves in an inclusive and expandable web of relationships. 

  • Drs. Spillers and Chandler

    Hortense J. Spillers & Nahum D. Chandler

    February 9, 2018: Global Horizon, or the Problem of the Color Line: A Symposium in Two Voices

    Professors Hortense J. Spillers and Nahum D. Chandler came to SUA to engage in a dialogue after a Louis Massiah documentary screening. The documentary “W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices” offered deep insight into the history of the African American experience in the US. The two scholars, then, talked about the origins of the African American intellectual practice in the late 18th century, shared their outlook on the concept of race, and discussed how “the problem of the color line” coincides with modern society. 

2021 Commencement Keynote

James M. Lawson Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr.

So be that life singularity, that life force, that energy of love and truth. May I then urge you to be a human being who is a citizen of the human race. Learn the power of life, the power of love, the power of what I call soul force.

Commencement Address by Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.
May 28, 2021