University dean receives social justice award

The awards ceremony marked the closing of the international exhibit on nonviolence on display at the Humphrey Institute.

Lee Billings

David Taylor, dean of the University’s General College, received Morehouse College’s Gandhi, King, Ikeda Community Builders prize Saturday at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Cowles Auditorium.

Taylor, who has worked to promote racial equality in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, joins the ranks of past winners such as Rosa Parks and Taufaahau Tupou IV, King of Tonga, promoters of social equality and multiculturalism.

Lawrence Edward Carter Sr. cited Taylor’s “outstanding leadership of General College” and “extraordinary efforts to promote educational opportunities for Minnesotans” as reasons for presenting Taylor the award. Carter is the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel dean and a professor of religion and philosophy at Morehouse College.

Taylor said he was surprised to be nominated for the honor, and said he is not the only one making a difference in General College.

“There are a lot of people in the college here who have been drum majors for social justice and are really concerned about issues surrounding diversity and multiculturalism,” he said. “It’s written right into our mission statement – it’s part of our culture here.”

During the presentation in the crowded auditorium, cries of “amen” and “all right” sporadically erupted from the audience as Carter bestowed Taylor and two other honorees, Jim Anderson and Amal Yusuf, with commemorative medallions.

Carter said Anderson was recognized for his work to preserve sacred American Indian historical sites in Minneapolis; Yusuf received the medal for her work in supporting Somali immigrant women and children.

The ceremony marked the closing of the international exhibit on nonviolence, “Gandhi, King, Ikeda: A Legacy of Building Peace,” on display at the Humphrey Institute since Feb. 14. The exhibit was co-sponsored by Morehouse College and several University organizations including General College and the student-run branch of Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist organization founded in Japan. Morehouse College in Atlanta is the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr.

“With the threat of war hovering over us, we thought we’d make a statement in favor of nonviolence as a way out of the dilemma that faces us individually and globally,” said University graduate student Kwabena Siaka, vice president of the Buddhism-Soka Gakkai International student club.

Siaka said the exhibit was developed and launched by Carter in April 2000. The exhibit showcases diversity and the virtues of nonviolence by recounting the lives of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Daisaku Ikeda and others who have changed the world through living lives of peace, he said.

“These three men represent people from different parts of the world, different nationalities, different faith traditions and different religions, and yet they thought out of the box and discovered a common truth,” Carter said. “There are so many things in the world that make us think that we are separate from each other, like the superficially visible – skin color, the texture of our hair, geography, where we went to school – but there’s only one humanity.”

In his acceptance speech, Taylor recalled how as a student he met Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 backstage in Northrop Auditorium when King visited the University.

“He informed us we were on the brink of a great social change in this country and our job as young men and women was to stay in school and acquire skill sets for the new order,” Taylor said. “The importance of it had escaped me at the time because I was overwhelmed with this man, but when I think back on it, it might’ve been the ‘little bird on the shoulder’ bit.”

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