January 18, 2024 | JT Torbit
Following an invigorating Empowerment Congress gathering on Saturday that kicked off the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday and included a teach-in on USA v. Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), under Pastor William D. Smart, Jr.’s leadership, held its 2024 Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Awards event on Sunday. This well-attended event was noteworthy not only for the “who’s who” attendees from Los Angeles’ Black community, but also (and more importantly), for the first-ever Rev. Dr. James and Dorothy Lawson Transformative Resistance Award.
The recipients of the inaugural award were Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas for their decades-long commitment to our community and fight for social justice. Prior to Dr. Ridley-Thomas taking the stage to accept the award, Pastor Lawson addressed the event’s attendees. While his remarks were brief, they were meaningful, heartfelt and carried with them the weight of Dr. King’s legacy of non-violence and as a leader in the never-ending struggle for social change to “Redeem the Soul of America.”
Pastor Lawson, now 95 years old, has been at the forefront of the American civil rights movement for more than six decades. His tireless efforts in organizing, strategizing, and training activists in nonviolent protest methods were inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Rev. Dr. Lawson worked closely with Dr. King. No one has fearlessly challenged systemic oppression and racial discrimination or advocated for social change through peaceful means like Pastor Lawson.
As a renowned activist, theologian, pastor and professor, Rev. Dr. Lawson’s impact on the civil rights movement can be traced back to the Nashville sit-ins in the 1960s, a pivotal role in training young activists in nonviolent direct action. As a result, his teachings and mentorship have empowered individuals to stand up against injustice and to pursue equality through nonviolent means.
During Rev. Dr. Lawson’s remarks, he spoke openly about meeting Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas when he came to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, a relationship and friendship that has remained strong for the past 50 years. He highlighted both Avis and Mark’s proud legacy in our community and their creative approaches to peace and justice issues for more than 40 years.
Following Rev. Dr. Lawson’s remarks, Mark Ridley-Thomas took the stage and spoke from the heart to the guests. He highlighted the importance of Rev. Dr. Lawson’s comments, as a guiding force in his life and a source of strength and stated how he was encouraged and emboldened following a discussion with Rev. Dr. Lawson about the Ridley-Thomas family’s struggles during the past two years of extraordinary assault and injustice. Rev. Dr. Lawson stressed that he should not back down in the face of overwhelming challenges and stand up for what is right and for the greater good. He insisted the indictment against MRT was an attack on our community and its leadership and therefore must be resisted in pursuit of our collective vindication.
This 53rd Annual event and stellar award presentations to Ayuko Babu, CA Secretary of State N. Weber, PhD, Do Kim, Esq., John H. Griffith, PhD, Jerry P. Abraham, MD, and the first-ever Transformative Resistance Award to the Ridley-Thomases, was a noteworthy part of this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s celebration.
This article was originally posted to LA Focus.