Bernard Lafayette inspires AUM, others to foster change in honor of MLK

 

How do we make the change that needs to be made?

Bernard Lafayette
Bernard Lafayette speaks at virtual MLK Reflections Breakfast.

Bernard Lafayette — a Civil Rights Movement activist, minister, educator, and steadfast proponent of nonviolence protesting — presented the question during his keynote address for Auburn University at Montgomery’s 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Reflections Breakfast. Lafayette’s Jan. 19 talk was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic and open to AUM students, faculty, staff, and the general public.

“One of my favorite things about this event is the connectivity it fosters between our students, faculty, staff and members of our community,” said AUM Chancellor Carl A. Stockton. “While our program looked substantially different this year being delivered in a virtual format, our purpose in joining together was to remember the legacy of Dr. King.”

During his keynote, Lafayette said the special occasion was a time to put into context the division in the country today because it is not unrelated to the 1960s Civil Rights

Movement led by King.

“Yes, we are in turmoil, and we’ve been in turmoil before, but never like this” he said. “Regardless of the situation that we are in, the question is: How do we make the change that needs to be made? Number one, when we have crisis in our country and world, it tells us that we have to do something different because if we do the same then we get the same.”

Americans must realize that “no country and no man is unto themselves,” said Lafayette, who worked extensively with King and other well-known civil rights activists such as James Lawson Jr. and former U.S. Rep. John Lewis during the movement.

“We are part of the larger global community,” Lafayette said. “This is why Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize. Not just because of the sit-ins that we had or the bus boycotts we had back in the ’60s and early ’50s, it was because of the impact and example that he showed to the world that even though we have problems … we can certainly make an impact or make some change to make this world a better world. That is what Martin Luther King gave to us.”

Lafayette – who participated in sit-ins in Tennessee, nonviolence workshops, freedom rides and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — recalled his rise from being a young man growing up in Tampa, Florida to becoming a student activist and later heading King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. He was with King the morning of his assassination and briefly met with him about the campaign, Lafayette said.

“Martin Luther King left us under a tragic situation, and we can all agree he only lived a short period of time,” Lafayette said. “When you add up the years he was involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he was only involved in the movement 12 years. That’s a short period of time but imagine what happened in those 12 years. He had a march on Washington, earned the Nobel Peace Prize … and was a regarded person in the United States. That was really something special.”

Lafayette said we all must do our part to change the world for the better as King did during his life.

“It’s one thing to be disgusted with an existing problem and then also protest about that problem, but it’s another thing to put together a strategy to bring about change,” he said.

Watch Lafayette’s keynote address online.

Learn more about Lafayette’s life’s work.

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