Vanderbilt Divinity School

Dean Yolanda Pierce

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Remembering Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.

Dear Friends of the James Lawson Institute,

The grief occasioned by Rev. James Lawson’s death is, to so many, seismic. In a world where violence is raging globally, we already feel the loss of his wisdom acutely. His voice was a primary force in the nonviolent movement and was an architect of its development in the United States.

You are now ancestor, Elder. We will not forget your courage. We will find our own.

Deeply appreciated for his mentoring, generous sharing of his time, and his courageous example, he will be missed by a multigenerational community of nonviolent social changemakers. His voice has been a catalyst for multiple and intersecting movements across the country and globe for the past 65 years. He realized that racial justice was also a fight for labor rights, gender, and sexual equality.

You dedicated your life to the pursuit of justice and human dignity for all

and laid a clear path for us to follow.

When Vanderbilt University launched the James Lawson Institute in 2022, Rev. Lawson said that the JLI would be a part of the “kind of social change—personal and social transformation” that would save the world. Standing at the podium, he proclaimed that, “we do no ordinary thing here. We are not engaged in something that we can see, but the possibilities are infinite.”

You made visionaries of us all, and saw the world that could be,

compelling us to neither ignore nor be limited by any present moment.

Rev. Lawson knew that the road to a justice-loving society is a long one, requiring a lifetime of commitment, and hearts overflowing with transformative love. These, “if our behavior is true,” will “sow the seeds for the consequences that will bear the fruits of righteousness and hope and peace. . . And make it possible for every boy, every girl, every man, woman . . .to achieve the full status of their humanity. Nothing less than that is the fight that we have.” (Rev. Lawson, In Love and Solidarity)

You showed us that when justice rolls down, and it will,

it will be catalyzed by a love moving across generations

and knowing no fear.

After decades of living into in his call to pursue justice, he was still committed to the path, and those of us who remain, must continue it. Rev. Lawson declared “we are to change the world.”

Your life speaks even now and asks:

How shall we change the world?

With whom will we travel?

Friends, join us as we live into Rev. Lawson’s legacy by continuing the necessary and good work to change the world.

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Distinguished Alumni/ae Award Nominations

We are now accepting nominations for the 2024 Distinguished Alumni/ae Award! 

Make your nominations here

The deadline is September 1st, 2024. 

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