Dees speaks to students, supporters

Kristy Mason

As soon as he appeared, everyone in DUC Theater stood up and applauded.

Civil rights activist Morris Dees visited Western to speak Thursday night about how teaching tolerance is important, and how hate groups in America must finally come to an end.

In his lecture, Dees discussed how he began fighting for civil rights and how it led him through many challenges in his career.

He said that by following his parents’ values of respect for others, he fought one civil rights violation after the next, and continues to combat hate crimes.

He said that the Pledge of Allegiance inspired him – that its principles have remained with him throughout his life.

“There are so many ways of being divided, yet we are all Americans, and we all unite together and pledge under one flag,” Dees said.

Dees has spent more than 20 years fighting discrimination in hopes that America will one

day stand for equal rights

and freedom and has received the National Education Association’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award.

He also co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, which specializes in prosecuting racial crimes and violations of civil rights.

Many in attendance were SPLC supporters, while some students came to the lecture as a class assignment.

Harry and Karan Simpson of Nashville have been SPLC supporters for five years and said they were glad to finally get the opportunity to hear Dees speak in person.

“It’s always been a dream to meet Morris Dees,” Karan Simpson said. “Just to be in the presence of someone who’s made such an impact and difference.”

Harry Simpson added, “He’s a hero of mine. I respect him for his stand for civil rights. He’s not afraid to stand up and speak for what he thinks is right, even though he has been in danger for doing so.”

Dees said that he is not concerned with death threats.

“I don’t think I’m courageous,” he said. “I’m not going to back down just because

I’m threatened.

“Civil rights is worth it. I just want people to hold on to central core values, fairness and justice. We are all Americans, we shouldn’t be persuaded to be divided.”

Dees said he appreciated all the students and staff at Western.

“I thought it was one of the warmest welcomings,” Dees said. “It showed me that there is a lot interest to students on current events here.”

Dees said the best way for students to stop hate groups is to get involved in groups such as Habitat for Humanity and YMCA.

“It’s amazing who’s watching you, and it’s important to set examples, because you never know who you influence,” Dees said.

One of the recent educational programs from the SPLC is “Teaching Tolerance,” which promotes equality and respect for students.

For more information, go to www.teachingtolerance.org.

Reach Kristy L. Mason at [email protected]