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Updated 10:00 AM February 9, 2009
 

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MLK closing lecturer rejects war, violence

The election of Barack Obama shows the country "is capable of tremendous change" writer Pearl Cleage said in her Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium closing lecture Jan. 30. This historic event was more than she ever thought possible when growing up in an African nationalist household in Detroit.
Pearl Cleage delivers the closing lecture in the Michigan Union Pendleton Room. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

While Cleage told the audience she cried when the new president was elected, her most passionate words during the symposium talk were about war around the world, particularly American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The writer of four books including "What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day," an Oprah Book Club selection, spoke of the horrors of war, of "severed heads, murdered mothers, weeping children."

War victims, Cleage said, are "somebody's mama, somebody's daddy, somebody's friend, somebody's true love. This is the world we have made and we can do better, and we have to."

"We must demand an end to the wars being waged around the world," she said. "We need new methods of conflict resolution that are not based on the old models."

Cleage's address was the official finale of the University's 23rd annual MLK celebration.

"I think it's been a good couple of weeks based on the attendance," John Matlock, associate vice provost and director or the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, told more than 200 who turned out for Cleage's talk in the Michigan Union Pendleton Room. "The Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium is something as an institution we're very proud of."

Cleage opened her remarks recalling the domestic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which she said continues to shape U.S. relations with the world. "We are still a nation at war," she said. "Most of us don't understand it even as it is waged in our names."

Causes of war, she said, include meanness, violence, rabid nationalism and hopelessness, which allow the young to grow with hardened hearts and the sense that they will kill or be killed.

"They are all our children no matter who birthed them," Cleage said, adding we must create a world "one free woman and peaceful man at a time."

She said the fact that Obama was elected shows not only the country is capable of dramatic change, but also that "at this moment a peace movement is possible."

Cleage urged the students attending her lecture to keep up with the news and have an informed opinion.

Also an activist for AIDS and women's rights, Cleage's father was a prominent minister who ran for governor of Michigan in 1962 on the Freedom Ticket; her mother was an elementary school teacher. A contributing editor to Essence magazine, she lives in Atlanta with husband Zaron Burnett Jr.