John M. Perkins breaking down racial barriers and the fight for justice

John M. Perkins breaking down racial barriers and the fight for justice

Photo by Jaclyn De Vries

With hands slightly worn he reached out as he spoke, as if to grasp onto the audience with more than just his words, swaying back and forth to the internal rhythm of his message, John M. Perkins, civil rights leader, author and founder of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation, reached through the gap in time between him and his audience to capture the hearts and minds of Lee University.

Perkins came to Lee to speak to students and faculty during chapel, Oct.30 as well as during a special open classroom forum in the newly renovated Pangle Hall. Drawing from his wealth of knowledge as an author, civil rights leader and community builder he imparted his wisdom from his years as a leader.

Born in Hebron, Mississippi in 1930, Perkins soon faced the realities of being born into poverty as a black man in the south. Throughout his childhood Mississippi was charged with an undercurrent of racism that pervaded the heart and soul of his community.

"My mother died of starvation on a plantation, my brother fought against Hitler and came back to his hometown and was killed. I fought in the Korean War and was tortured in a jail," Perkins said during his speech.

These events all led up to Perkins joining the Civil Rights movement in the '60s.

"I was longing for [the Civil Rights Movement], I didn't have a decision [to make]. You might have a decision [to make] but I didn't have a decision to make, because we had made a great commitment, Perkins said. "We hold these truths to be self evident that all human beings are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights and chief among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ' that they would be from every nation under God with liberty and justice for all."

Mike Hayes, vice president of student development, introduced Perkins citing him as one of his heroes.

Hayes said Lee likes to hear from people who have had these types of experiences so issues of today are not just something theoretical, they are something that someone has lived and that brings a sense of integrity to issues.

"I am 84 years old and I have long [thought] these days are the days to come," Perkins said. "When I turned 80 I decided to refocus my life on what I was going to do toward the end of it. I decided I would give my life to justice, righteousness and justice is one in the same, and it's one coin with two sides. And I would live my life for that."

With this rededication of "justice and righteousness" Perkins called upon those with a love of Christ to make a change.

"I'm not talking about the change [what change liberals can make] I'm not talking about the change the tea party can make, I'm talking about the change the people of God can make," Perkins said "I'm talking about an eternal community I'm talking about people who can live and their lives can speak the power ... and consumerism and materialism we are not redeemed with silver and gold we have ourselves a prosperity religion that will stop the faith of God."

Perkins has long been an advocate of change through action in communities and the way Christians live their lives.

'When the church of Antioch broke through the racial barriers and began to preach the gospel to all people, you've got to come back to that,' Perkins said. "We have shamed the gospel with ambition and we have used the gospel that fits our ambition, our will instead of God's will. God's will is everything. We've got to come back to the word of God we've got to come back to believing it, and our life has got to act it out. We've got to be the people of God, the holy church has got to be the change we want to see in the community."

Perkins called the younger generation to be the change they want to see in the world, to call out racial bigotry that has long plagued those who came before and will after him.

"Something that's happened among this generation that it's a small job' but something's coming and they represent that small cloud. A new generation of people, who is not race hating and using cold words for oppression," Perkins said. 'This is the first generation in my life, that I saw the values of diversity and competition healthy, and I'm going to benefit from you and you're going to benefit from me."

Perkins calls for a change in "the eternal family" those who claim to walk with Jesus Christ and to be an outward representation of his love.

"The rain is coming, the rain is coming. We're going to work through racial and cultural barriers ' people from every nation, every tongue they will be praising God this racism won't last forever, Perkins said.

Indyasia Johnson, junior Lee student said the presence of Perkins on Lee's campus showed that there is an awareness of the hurdles yet to be overcome when it comes to racial equality.

"[Perkins presence on campus] gave me hope that people still care, because it feels like people think we've reached the destination with racism the issues are ignored because we think we've reached the destination and we haven't," Johnson said. 'There are still issues, and that he's here and that he's speaking is proof that the university cares and people still care about the different injustices, the oppression and the inequity that exists.'

Just as he did not have "a choice" in the Civil Rights Movement, neither do the righteous have a choice in whether to choose justice and to act out God's mercy in the world.

"I believe that this generation of young people can make change happen. Don't accept that old racial curse, [if you do] you are on the wrong side, they will lose, we are on the [side of the] righteousness of God," Perkins said.

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