Thought Leaders for Social Change

Howard Thurman was born in Daytona Beach, Florida where he and his family lived in all black communities. Much of Howard’s life journey was shaped by his grandmother, a former slave. After Howard finished eighth grade, he was forced to leave home to attend one of the 3 high schools in Florida for African-Americans. Howard graduated from Morehouse College as its valedictorian. Two years later, he became an ordained Baptist minister.

Howard travelled extensively on missions. He was invited to India along with a delegation of African-Americans. He and Mahatma Gandhi had extensive discussions about the African-American experiences in America. Gandhi introduced Howard to Satyagraha, a strategy of passive political resistance. When Gandhi and Howard had their final meeting, Gandhi reflected that he wished he would have focused more on non-violence as a key element in social change.

When Howard returned to America, he became involved in a number of ministerial positions where he was able to bring black and white people together in worship. This was an example of a crossing the divide belief that guided his life.

Howard became a mentor of Martin Luther King and was very influential in King’s thinking for civil rights advances. In addition to Martin Luther King, Howard became a mentor for other civil rights leaders.

Some catalysts for social change do their work through those they mentor. Activists need mentors to help them think through their work. One of Howard’s 20 books he wrote was especially influential to Martin Luther King in thinking about the civil rights movement he was leading.

Social change often requires a mix of skills. Some contributions are from thought leaders while others come from those who are involved directly in the change activities. Howard Thurman was a thought leader catalyst.

Just imagine how the Civil Rights Movement in American might have gone without the thoughtful mentoring of Howard Thurman? Just imagine what might result should our Congress adopt a “crossing the divide” approach that Howard Thurman espoused? Just imagine how social justice reform could benefit from those who might provide thoughtful, behind the scenes guidance to the reformers.

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“After all, the ordinary hero hiding in each of us is often the most powerful catalyst for change.” – Tate Taylor (Filmmaker and Actor)

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