LEWISTON — The Rev. James Lawson did more than just encourage students, faculty and community members to live peaceful lives during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Memorial Service at the Bates College Chapel Sunday night.

Instead, the man once described by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as “the greatest teacher of nonviolence in America,” challenged the crowd to dive headfirst into changing the world around them rather than merely existing within it.

“God has a purpose for the human race. We human beings should tap the infinite potential of the greatest gift we have — life,” Lawson told the crowd. “The only vision worthy of humans is the vision that sees the convergence of human kind towards creating a history that is saved; that is whole.”

Lawson, a civil rights leader, social activist and distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., will be one of two keynote speakers during the college’s 2011 King Day programming Monday. This year’s theme, “Get Up, Stand Up: The Fierce Urgency of Now,” combines the title of Bob Marley’s politically charged reggae hit with a key phrase from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington.

Lawson, a prominent figure during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, will share the spotlight with Asher Kolieboi, co-director of an organization that works against campus violence toward members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.

“Having lived so closely over those years with the struggle and all that the King day, and week, and holiday represent, it is the greatest holiday this nation has,” Lawson said during Sunday night’s sermon. “And yet today — 2011 — vast numbers of us do not understand that the (civil rights) movement represented the second revolution.

Lawson has long fought for the rights of all people but has never raised a weapon to the end. In fact, the Methodist preacher and pacifist spent time behind bars because he refused to take up arms in the Korean War. A follower of Gandhi and his nonviolent principles, Lawson brought passive resistance to the civil rights movement in the early 1950s, an instrumental practice used during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Lawson encouraged the crowd to closely examine the world around them, pay particular attention to man’s increasing greed and the wars it fuels. He pointed out how the United States now has a military presence in 130 countries throughout the world, yet the question is never asked why.

Lawson called for a compassionate and caring community, which he considers the bricks and mortar for creating a true civilized nation — not guns and wars.

“History is not on the side of evil and wars. History is on the side of the human race,” Lawson said. “Don’t go from Bates and make a living. Go from Bates and make a life.”

Lawson will speak again 9:30 a.m. Monday in the Olin Arts Center Concert Hall on Russell Street. Kolieboi will speak at 2:30 p.m. in the same location. Both keynote addresses will be followed by breakout sessions led by faculty and community members, as well as special guests.

All MLK Day events at Bates are open to the public at no cost. For more information, call 786-6400.

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