Civil rights leader celebrates new Gandhi Center

“Do not wait! Come on! You have a great need. We do not have anyone like you! ” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Rev. James Lawson Jr., then a student, when he first met him at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1957.

King had recently succeeded in boycotting Birmingham buses for years after Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat on a split bus. He realized first hand the impact of the non-violent action after the courts found that the separate positions violated the 14th Amendment.

Lawson had just returned from India, where he had the opportunity to meet those who had worked alongside Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi in the Indian independence movement. King observed Lawson’s expertise in Gaddy’s methods of nonviolent action as an approach to the struggle for justice and recruited him to play a more important role in the nonviolent struggle against segregation.

In January 1958, Lawson was based in Nashville and trained political rights activists such as Diane Nass and the late MP John Lewis in the art of disciplined and strategic nonviolent action. Gaddy’s methods have inspired political rights leaders to use nonviolence as their main tactic throughout the movement.

“From my study of non-violence around the world and reading Gaddy and his work in South Africa and India, I was absolutely convinced that we blacks could start… a major movement that would start this nation. to the goal of fulfilling his own best visions, “Lawson said.

On February 18, Lawson participated in a Zoom gathering with Dr. Ravi and Naina Patel, community members, campus leaders, students and teachers from Fresno State as they announce its creation MK Gandhi Center: Inner Peace and Sarvodaya.

Administered by the College of Arts and Humanities and headed by the Department of Philosophy in Fresno State, the center will be located in the Madden Library. It was made possible by a generous $ 1.5 million gift from her Ravi and Naina Patel Foundation.

Sarvodaya is committed to the principles of equality, justice, sustainability and dignity. Gaddy states, “I do not think so.” These programs covered all aspects of human life, including health, education, local and organic food cultivation, ethical citizenship development, hygiene practices, interfaith harmony, industry, and local government structures.

“I’m excited to be here for this most impressive and important event. “I think it’s one of the most important things that can happen at a university,” Lawson said in a keynote address on February 18. “People desperately need Gaddy’s intervention in the 20th century for our knowledge and for the global uplift. ”

Looking back, Lawson described the tone of the United States during the partition. Cities across the country often had “white only” signs and structures that severely limited a black man’s ability to move freely or earn a living. Numerically, the fight against systemic racism did not seem to be a viable option. As Lawson remembered his mother’s motto “evil cannot be defeated by evil,” it was clear that another way to overcome it was necessary.

“My country owes a lot to Gaddy because the nonviolent movement from 1953 to 1973 began the process of opening our nation to truth and justice,” Lawson said. It took nonviolent struggle to break down the scars, to begin to question the racist structures, the conditions of white supremacy, and to make the nation seriously consider “we take these truths for granted.”

Nonviolence, Lawson said, is a science, it is love, it is transforming and it was vital to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s move to win political rights for millions.

“I congratulate the state of Fresno on receiving it [Gandhi] “Center,” Lawson said. “May it be the beginning of an academy that recognizes… the science of nonviolence, the most important intervention of the 20th century and what we all urgently need in the human race, if we expect our living species to live and flourish.”


Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, donor Ravi Patel witnessed similar violence against blacks during apartheid. At the same time, he saw leaders emerge using Gaddy’s philosophies to fight for equality.

Dr Ravi Patel said he returned to South Africa years later with his children and they visited the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was being held.

“You could hardly put an entire person to rest and sleep comfortably. Mandela was held there for years and years and came out without hatred. It is amazing to see how these Gaddy teachings can transform people to the point where they do not hate whatever happens. Absolute love and acceptance. “

Donor Naina Patel joined the Gandhi Interfaith Conference committee in Bakersfield 25 years ago. He explained that Gaddy’s teachings are based on three pillars: inner transformation (to be change), Sarvodaya (raising all) and Satyagraha (strength of soul). While Satyagraha is a well-known concept, it sets the inner metamorphosis and Sarvodaya is often overlooked.

“During the recent demonstrations against racist violence, we realized that, although the cause was just, the methods of supporting it were not as effective or as long-lasting as they could be. “In my humble opinion, one of the reasons was that he largely lacked the principles of inner purity and service to humanity that Gaddy saw as a precondition for systemic change,” said Naina Patel.

This awareness inspired the Patels to create the Gaddy Center, focusing on Gaddy’s principles to inspire the next generation of leaders.

The Inner Peace and Sarvodaya Scholarship

Dr. Veina Howard

During the virtual ceremony in February, Fresno President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval was named Dr. Veina Howard as director of the Gaddy Center.

“Education in peace, work and service to others, and programs for the development of inner harmony will contribute to our commitment to courageously train tomorrow’s leaders and equip them with a socially just vision for our entire community.” , said Jiménez-Sandoval.

Howard is a professor of religion at the Department of Philosophy. He also serves as a Gifted President at Jain and the Hindu Dharma and is a leading scholar of Gaddy. Howard has published more than two dozen articles with reviewers and book chapters on Gaddy’s studies and religions in India, including an Oxford bibliography on Gaddy. She is currently working on her second book about Gaddy and has been a speaker at various national and international conferences. In 2019, it hosted the Gandhi’s Global Legacy conference in Fresno, which was attended by leaders and civil rights scholars such as Lawson, Dolores Huerta and Dr. Mary Elizabeth King.

“Peace leaders around the world recognize Mahatma Gandhi and his nonviolent methods of immediate action as tools for social justice and equality initiatives,” Howard said. “Gandhi has been the subject of scientific commentary and inspiration for activists seeking to address structural violence, racism, oppression and inequality. In our Valley, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and many others have used Gaddy’s methods to secure the rights of farmers. “Monuments in the Fresno State Peace Garden are a testament to Gaddy’s global influence.”

Dr. Robert Maldonado, president of the Department of Philosophy in Fresno, said the Gaddy Center supports all of the department’s programs, including general philosophy, religious studies, law, peace and conflict studies, and Middle East studies. .

“A key commitment in the department is to study and learn from a comparative perspective – as exemplified by Gaddy himself,” Maldonado said. “The Gaddy Center will allow us to bring to our students, the wider university community and beyond a richer and more complete experience that is deeply personal and shared.”

“Through the Gandhi Center, the State of Fresno will now be able to provide classes, banquets and other interactive events based on the Gaddy principles” that will inspire future generations to take good action, “she said. Honora Chapman, Rector of the College of Arts and Humanities. in the State of Fresno.

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