On Tuesday, Dec. 10, the Dorothy Cotton Institute held our first DCI Gala and Dinner in honor of International Human Rights Day, and featured the presentation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s 2013 Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Award to our distinguished guests, Dr. Vincent G. Harding and Ms. Dorothy F. Cotton, with inspiring remarks by the award recipients and Ambassador Andrew Young.
Over 200 people attended the event at the Trip Hotel, enjoying good food, great live jazz by Fe Nunn and friends, and Harry Aceto and friends, and a remarkable performance by the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers. Our Master of Ceremonies was Cal Walker.
Our celebration began with a visit to the Greater Ithaca Activities Center by DCI National Advisor Dr. Harding and Ms. Aljosie Aldrich Knight, both of whom participated in the DCI’s 2012 delegation to the Israel and the West Bank. They graciously spent the afternoon at GIAC, speaking first with local activists, educators, and organizers, and then another two and a half hours with teens from New Roots Charter School and GIAC’s Conservation Corps. Their conversation with young people was truly remarkable.
All three of our speakers exhorted the audience not to wait for someone else, some celebrity or high-placed official, to lead the change we want to see in the world, but rather to rely on ourselves and take action to create the kind of world we need. Being in the presence of people whose courage, commitment to non-violence, and willingness to stay on the journey toward the realization of full human rights reminded us that we have progressed a long way toward freedom, but we still have a way to go.
At GIAC, Dr. Harding was asked by a student whether he and others in the Freedom Struggle were ever scared of the violence and danger down south. He shared that sometimes he and his colleagues were very scared, but that they never attempted to do things alone; when he was afraid, someone else would remind him that “You can do this.” They always had friends with them, and what kept them going when they felt like running away was both knowing that people had come before them in the struggle and sacrificed for his next generation, but more importantly, they knew that they had to keep going so that “you could be here today”–i.e., together, in an integrated gathering of students, sharing where we came from, what we want to be doing 20 years from now, and why, with pathways open to them that couldn’t be imagined back in the 60s.
Dr. Harding emphasized the great importance of knowing one’s background, learning our history, and becoming strongly grounded and nurtured in our own cultures and who we are, so that we can go forth into diverse, integrated settings and take leadership, sharing and exchanging our stories with people who are different from ourselves without trying to just be like them and losing ourselves.
Dr. Harding answered a question about the first time he met Martin Luther King, Jr. He described traveling to Montgomery, Alabama in a racially mixed group of 5 young ministers from his an integrated Mennonite church he founded in Chicago. They set out to test themselves as to whether they could prevail on this journey with their integrated group, meet Dr. King, and explore the possibility of establishing such a church in the south.
They looked up Dr. King in the phone book, called and spoke with Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and asked if they could meet her husband. She explained that he had just been hospitalized after being stabbed, and was now recuperating at home. She wasn’t sure he would be up to it, but that they could stop by and see. When they arrived at the door, they were invited to visit with MLK, Jr. in his bedroom. He was sitting up in bed in his bathrobe, and kept laughing and remarking that they had made it through Mississippi.
Dr. Harding explained to the young people at GIAC that at the time, he was 27 years old, and Dr. King was only 29. The image of these very young people who were doing extraordinary things in such violent and intolerable circumstances really made quite an impression, and challenged all of us to never do anything with our lives without knowing why.
Thanks to all of you who attended, who sponsored others to be able to attend, and who support the Dorothy Cotton Institute!
Please check out this piece from Fellowship of Reconciliation, posted before the Gala.