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Black Leader Addresses Students

Dr. Joseph Lowry Calls for a 'Return to an Era of Activism'

By Jay K. Varma

Black Harvard students must celebrate the Black experience and "return to an era of activism," the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) said yesterday.

Speaking to more than 30 undergraduates in a Sever Hall lecture room, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowry, called on Black students to bring the "Black experience" to Harvard.

"Black students have an extraordinary responsibility to help teach white students who don't know what the Black experience means," said Lowry, who, more than 30 years ago, helped the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. found SCLC-a major civil rights organization. "The future is in your hands: continue the fight."

Sponsored by the Harvard/Radcliffe Black Students Association in celebration of Black History Month, Lowry's speech emphasized "what the Black presence has meant to America."

By understanding their racial history, Black students can resist yielding "to the temptation to be lost and becom[ing] something [they] are not," he said.

Lowry argued that Blacks must renew activism, examine their own lifestyles and participate actively in politics to achieve their civil rights goals.

"We have won the battles of the symptoms of racism, now it's a systemic struggle," Lowry said.

In the history of Blacks, "progress has been commensurate to struggle," Lowry declared, decrying complacency.

"When we have become satisfied with tokenism, progress has stopped," Lowry said.

Recently, Blacks have "tasted tokenism and let it substitute for true pluralism," he said.

"We must keep on agitating and cajoling until justice rolls our way," Lowry said. "We still believe this country is capable of issuing justice. That's the highest form of patriotism."

Lowry said that Blacks must also look inward to promote economic justice and inspire self-esteem among the community.

Factors such as violence among Black males and misplaced "priorities" have become the banes to the civil rights movement, he said.

Unlike civil rights activists during the '60s, current activists in black communities must face the problem of a dearth of young men while concurrently fighting racism, he said.

"Where have all the young men gone? Prison," he said.

"We've got to turn to each other, not on each other," Lowry said. "I'm talking about developing lifestyles that get our priorities straight. Then we can help government get its priorities straight."

Lowry also said that Black political activism could create "a formidable force in turning elections."

Encouraging Blacks to "participate in all elections," Lowry said that Blacks should "think independently," and not commit themselves to a specific party.

"We need to concentrate more on local elections by organizing a force that Republicans or Democrats can fight for," Lowry proclaimed, calling on Blacks to bond together in a "coalition with sensitive white people to change the system."

"We must organize for economic justice, self-esteem, and political power," he said. "It's absolutely essential to [insuring] a bright future."

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