A crowd of about 60 students gathered in Sever Hall as Rev. Eugene V. Rivers III urged them to take action against the Sudanese government.
“There’s no way my main man Larry Summers could avoid a direct appeal regarding the issue in Sudan,” said Rivers, who has been painted as a challenger to the Rev. Jesse Jackson as America’s most influential black leader. “Let’s do something that’s morally definitive and intellectually coherent. You’re Harvard students, it won’t cost you anything. You could do it and not miss a beat.”
Rivers, who dropped out of Harvard in his junior year in 1983, spoke extensively about the importance of a national black movement to stop the killing in Darfur.
“I raise this question to all the young people in here, and particularly those of African descent who are privileged by virtue of your presence here at this fine institution,” he said. “When the history is written on the first decade of the 21st century, 200 years from now, on what page will your name appear when they discuss the genocide in the Sudan? What will you tell your grandchildren regarding where you stood while black women and children were being raped, and abused, and exploited?”
Oludamini D. Ogunnaike ’07, who hosted last night’s event, said he found Rivers’ message inspiring.
“I thought he called out all sorts of people for not doing much about the atrocities in Darfur,” Ogunnaike said. “I think he motivated a lot of students to do something.”
Rivers’ focus on the black community prompted questions from the audience about the divisiveness of calling the genocide a “black problem.”
“Just as the Jewish community realized at a certain point that they needed to mobilize for themselves in order to challenge the Holocaust, so must black people mobilize,” Rivers responded.
And Rivers argued that only when black people mobilize as a group does the rest of the country call it divisive. He said no one accused American Jews of being divisive when they mobilized to stop the Holocaust.
At the beginning of his presentation, Rivers likened the political climate surrounding the Sudan genocide to Rwanda’s problems in the last decade.
“Awareness of the atrocities and pleading by desperate Rwandans was not enough to provoke intervention until the genocide was complete,” Rivers said.
Rivers also painted the crisis as a case of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Arabs against blacks in Darfur.
“Where are the Arab voices of conscience we hear regularly berating Israel? Where are they when the issue is Arab genocide against black people?” he said.
Rivers quoted an Oct. 4 report in Time magazine to describe the Sudanese crisis in further detail. “The Sudanese Arabs are gang-raping black women ‘...to make what they say will be lighter-skinned babies and ensure that the non-Arab tribes will be too degraded to return to their homes,’” he said.
In his career as a fiery Dorchester preacher and national leader in the black movement, Rivers has returned to Harvard countless times to speak on issues ranging from the AIDS pandemic in Africa to the economic power of the black community in the United States.
In the 1990s, Rivers helped create the Ten Point Coalition, a group of Boston-area church leaders who were instrumental in fighting crime in Boston and served as a model for a national crime-fighting program.
In 1998, Rivers publicly defended Boston magazine after it was criticized for running the headline “Head Negro in Charge” with a profile of Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Rivers spoke last night after Alexander M. Gupman, a junior associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, addressed the implications of the Sudan crisis on international law. Gupman argued the United States should intervene not for legal reasons, but for moral and political ones, a claim Rivers supported.
Last night’s event was sponsored by the Harvard African Students Association, the Black Men’s Forum, the Black Students Association and the Association of Black Harvard Women.