IT MIGHT SEEM UNLIKELY that a social justice program would flourish at a predominately white school in a region where racial divides are as common as Confederate battle flags. But extraordinary changes have occurred at Stetson University since the revolutionary thoughts of a black minister began to be implemented on campus and in the surrounding town of DeLand, Florida.
For more than a decade, a steady stream of poets, historians, business leaders, musicians, and significant figures from the civil rights era has flowed through Stetson’s campus as part of the Howard Thurman Program. In front of students, faculty, and townsfolk, speakers recount their days as freedom riders and their participation in boycotts, sit-ins, and marches. Others speak of slum colonialism in the 21st century, the fight for quality health care for minorities, as well as for decent housing and cultural freedoms. Still others have forged laws in Congress, negotiated prisoner releases in the Middle East, and helped South African refugees get an education. All challenge their audiences to seek solutions to issues of poverty, racism, justice, and social change.
The speakers come to this 126-year-old university because of the life and work of Howard Thurman, a theologian, professor, author, and mentor who influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and many other African-American leaders in the mid-20th century asthey founded and participated in the civil rights movement. Thurman is often considered the spiritual architect of this social revolution that forever changed lives in the United States.