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Chester County Press

Rev. William Barber inspires Lincoln University audience with a dynamic message of hope and resilience

02/14/2024 01:35PM ● By Chris Barber

Nationally acclaimed civil rights leader and speaker Rev. Dr. William Barber brought audience members to their feet repeatedly during his special convocation at Lincoln University in Lower Oxford on Feb. 6.

The convocation was titled “A Black History Celebration of Trailblazers” and honored as well the university’s Freedom 14 students who walked 66 miles to Harrisburg to obtain substantial funding for Lincoln in November.

The author and widely sought-after advocate, and founding director of of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School has for decades been called upon to give the keynote speeches at hundreds of national and state conferences—including the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A dynamic and inspiring force in the Civil Rights Movement, he elicited enthusiastic shouts of agreement and applause during his passionate speech of almost an hour on the stage at the university’s International Cultural Center.

Following his presentation, university President Brenda Allen and Trustee Board Chairman Gerald Bruce awarded him his 13th honorary doctorate by placing the hood symbolizing the honor over his head.

Barber began his speech by praising the 13 students and one faculty member who made the trek to Harrisburg and persuaded Gov. Josh Shapiro to complete the state education funding bill for Pennsylvania.

“They deserve a standing ovation!” He said.

Their efforts and persuasion resulted in Lincoln receiving a 21-percent increase of about $3 million, raising its annual total to almost $19 million. The Freedom 14 also facilitated the awarding of state grants to the other three state-related universities: Penn State, Temple and Pitt.

He told them, “[Lincoln] said they were gonna give me an honorarium. I said I couldn’t take that. We’ll give that honorarium to the students and add to it.”

He announced he was seeing to it that each one of the students received $3,000 to do with as they wished.

During his speech, he referred often to the Biblical quote, “The stone that the builder rejected has now become the cornerstone.”

Comparing the Blacks and other rejected minorities to the stone he said, “If you hang in there, God reconstructs society and does it through you. This is the day!”

“The day will come when dark Fridays become bright Sunday mornings.”

He praised individuals who fought for freedom beginning in the days of slavery until the present, putting “courage ahead of caution.” He used the example of Rosa Parks who, without regard to the consequences to herself said, “It’s the last time I go to the back of the bus.”

Barber made repeated references to heroic Black individuals who contributed mightily to the history of the nation, including Lincoln University graduates Thurgood Marshall, who served as a Supreme Court justice, and poet Langston Hughes, as well as Lincoln native Julian Bond, who founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Many of these, like the reference to the “stone that the builder rejected,” were “cornerstones.”

He scorned those who currently celebrate Juneteenth – the day in which the slaves in Texas were informed late of their freedom two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

“They weren’t celebrating; they were cussing: ‘You mean they got two more years of work out of us?’” Barber said.

Barber is an advocate not only for Blacks but for all groups “rejected by the builder,” because of their gender, poverty, how they think or whom they love.

He concluded his speech by reciting the letters of the alphabet, designating each letter as the initial of a call for liberty and Black affirmation.

Barber is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, among other positions. He is the author of four books and is regularly featured in media outlets and magazines.

Also participating in the convocation were the Lincoln Concert Choir and Band.