Written by: John Preer
Through the combined efforts of VSU’s student organization S.A.V.E. (Students Against Violating the Environment) and Dr. Ari Santos’ ethics and environment course, motivational speaker Dr. Gerald L. Durley presented a lecture on environmental justice and climate change in Jennett Hall Wednesday night.
Born to a 16-year-old mother, Dr. Durley was placed in a special education program because of a speech impediment. Durley found his voice in his fourth-grade, special education class when he boldly responded to the heckling of fellow classmates.
Dr. Durley got his introduction to the civil rights movement during his time at Tennessee State University. While attending the university on a basketball scholarship, Durley participated in protests and marches that resulted in his scholarship being pulled. Fortunately, Durley knew a few supportive professors that paid for the remainder of his education at Tennessee State.
The theme of the lecture centered on environmental issues that have occupied news
headlines for some time. Dr. Durley tackled touchy subjects such as the Keystone pipeline controversy, the negative effects of fracking, and alternative power sources, all while maintaining a light, jovial tone.
All of these topics were seamlessly melded together under the importance of taking full advantage of “kairos moments.” These moments are instances of supreme opportunity. Dr. Durley hailed the lecture as one of those kairos moments and urged the audience to passionately effect change in their own communities.
“Everybody has a right to clean air and clean water,” Dr. Durley said. “…When you challenge the status quo, the status quo will challenge you.”
As a veteran in the civil rights community, Dr. Durley was able to regale stories of voting-rights protests with iconic figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, Hosea Williams and John Lewis.
Durley tied his experience with civil rights into his more recent struggle for human and environmental rights. He spoke to the importance of eliminating the barriers that divide communities.
Dr. Durley called for awareness and education as a means for effecting change in a community. He said without bringing awareness to the issues at hand, it would be nearly impossible to truly bring about a change to current policies that hinder progressive movement, and educating the community establishes a common bond that rallies supporters together.
The morality of addressing climate change was another talking point that Dr. Durley touched on, naming disbelief as the main moral shortcoming that is crippling the environmental preservation movement. Durley said the profit motive of a capitalistic society was also to blame for the lethargy of large companies that have the ability to truly effect change in the environment.
“When you speak truth to power, it’s always devastating,” Durley said. “… It’s unfortunate that in America, we live in a nation of deniers.”
Dr. Durley repeatedly praised S.A.V.E. for their courage and diligence. He noted that all great movements begin when individuals are willing to make personal sacrifices for the cause that they support.
“We are all in this thing together,” Durley concluded. “Get involved and eliminate the myths so that we can see reality.”