By Larry R. Hygh Jr.*
ATLANTA (UMNS) —“I’m gonna die with my boots on,” declared the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery during Gammon Theological Seminary’s Trailblazers and Prophetic Leaders Banquet.
Lowery, 91, was awarded the United Methodist-related seminary’s 2012 Trailblazer and Prophetic Leader Award during the schools 129th Founders’ Day celebration. Lowery, who accepted the award on Oct. 16, the night of the second presidential debate, told the more than 300 people gathered that he only had one thing on his mind, voting.
“I hope you get fired up… . We gotta turn out to vote,” Lowery said. “We’ve got to get out and hustle this time. When you go back home, turn out everybody you know.”
He added, “God can turn this country around… . God is able.”
Lowery is a leader in the American civil rights movement and a retired United Methodist pastor. Lowery helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955. In 1957, along with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and led the organization as president from 1977 to 1997. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The Rev. Albert D. Mosley, the 15th president-dean of Gammon, said, “From its infancy in the early 1880s, issues of equality and racial justice have been at the center of who, and what, Gammon is as an institution.”
He added, “Dr. Lowery has been on the forefront of the fight for equality and racial justice and we honor his lifelong commitment to the cause.”
In 2008, after his historic election as the United States’ first African-American president, then President-elect Barack Obama called and personally invited Lowery to deliver the benediction at the inauguration. Lowery recalled standing on the stage on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2009, facing the Lincoln Memorial. He said he could not see that far, but he recalled the voice of King delivering the “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
Lowery said, “They didn’t vote on race and color; they voted on content and character.”
During the banquet, the Rev. Bernice Kirkland was named the 2012 Distinguished Alumna. Kirkland is an ordained elder in the North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference, where she serves as the pastor of Hoosier Memorial United Methodist Church. Her pastoral appointments have been diverse, including chaplain residency, cross-racial ministry and congregations experiencing historic change. She serves the North Georgia Conference on district and conference level in various capacities.
This year, the seminary also presented a 2012 Emerging Trailblazer award to the Rev. Olujimi “Olu” Brown. Brown is the lead pastor and founder of Impact United Methodist Church in Atlanta. He established Impact Church in January 2007 and attendance has grown to more than 500 weekly in just one of its three weekly worship services.
Gammon Theological Seminary, affectionately called by alumni, “The School of the Prophets,” is in Atlanta and is the United Methodist constituent member of the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC), a consortium of six historically African-American theological schools. Founded in 1883 by the Methodist Episcopal Church and with assistance from the Freedman’s Aid Society, Gammon Theological Seminary is one of the 13 theological schools of the United Methodist Church.
*Hygh is the associate general secretary, director of communications, for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He also serves on the board of trustees of Gammon.