SCLC President Charles Steele, Jr. (Courtesy Photo)
SCLC President Charles Steele with former Soviet President Gorbachev at the Symposium of the New Policy Forum in Berlin. They are standing in front of the SCLC banner of Dr. King's visit to Berlin 50 years ago. (Photo by Dieter Bölke)
SCLC President Charles Steele with former Soviet President Gorbachev at the Symposium of the New Policy Forum in Berlin. They are standing in front of the SCLC banner of Dr. King’s visit to Berlin 50 years ago. (Photo by Dieter Bölke)

By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart
Special to the NNPA

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, leader in the transformational nonviolent Civil Rights Movement America in the 1960s, is poised for a major role in bringing international peace and equality with the recent signing of a historic proclamation with world leaders in Berlin.

Charles Steele, Jr., president of the Atlanta-based organization, presented the proclamation and secured support during a summit in Berlin November 8-9, commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Steele, who was the only American participating in that summit, also met with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev who agreed to serve as the international chairman of the SCLC’s Global Roundtable on Peace, an initiative that expands the international work Dr. Martin Luther King launched before his death.

The international link with the SCLC and world leaders focused on solutions to global conflicts again shows how much the organization is still held in esteem around the world, said Steele. He arrived for the summit just before thousands began commemorating the historic events at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate that changed the world.

“Just five hours before his assassination in Memphis in 1968, Dr. King told one of his lieutenants, [current SCLC board chairman] Dr. Bernard Lafayette, ‘Now is the time to internationalize and institutionalize the SCLC and the Civil Rights Movement all over the world. We must go international,’” Steele said. “The relationships the SCLC has established with world leaders, this proclamation and the Nonviolence Conflict Initiative are all a part of the dream of Dr. King.”

As chairman of the SCLC initiative, Gorbachev will serve as a major adviser, providing SCLC with more access to leading policy leaders who can help the organization fulfill its mission in eradicating poverty and achieving peaceful resolutions.

Dr. King, president and a founding member of the SCLC, had already made a significant impact on Berlin in a visit at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement in September 1964. His trip occurred 30 years after his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., known as “Daddy King,” travelled to Berlin with a delegation of Atlanta pastors to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Baptist congregations in Germany. It was also during the 1934 trip that the elder King decided to change his name and his son’s name from Michael to Martin after the 16th century German theologian Martin Luther, who initiated the Protestant Reformation.

The impact of Dr. King’s visit still resonates in Germany and many people there credit the iconic leader for being one of the heroes behind the scenes who helped bring an end to the Cold War and the wall coming down on November 9, 1989.

Twenty five years after the end of the Cold War, leaders gathered in Berlin confirmed by signing the SCLC’s proclamation that international conflicts can best be resolved through nonviolent peaceful solutions. This is the same strategy that Dr. King employed during the turbulent 1960s.

The proclamation also calls leaders to work toward help for the poor and suffering, social justice and equity, stewardship of the planet, defense of global human rights, and economic equality and education.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Mikhail Gorbachev are two of my greatest heroes,” Steele said. “I told him the SCLC is interested in addressing poverty and human rights around the world, and he is interested in collaborating with us – the organization co-founded by Dr. King.”

About 25 leaders – former ambassadors, foreign ministers, renowned policy advisers – assembled for the summit at Allianz Forum, overlooking the Brandenburg Gate, signed the proclamation, because they believe in the dream of peace championed by Dr. King and they respect the words of the Soviet Union’s last president.

“Mr. Gorbachev said: There should never be another crisis on the global community stage that we have to use war and violence in order to solve our problems. The only way to solve our problems is through peace and nonviolence.”

Prior to signing the proclamation, Gorbachev thanked the summit participants, including Steele and leaders from throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and North America and said: “The discussion we have had today shows that there are many ideas. The urgency we see here requires immediate attention.”

Martin Lees, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and secretary-general of the Club of Rome, called the summit significant and indicated it could be the start of major changes in the way Europe and the world addresses issues.

“You have people here from all over the world drawing on their expertise and wisdom. They are looking at today’s world and basically saying we are in trouble. We have to mobilize our forces and get together to build a better world,” Lees said in an interview following the close of the summit on November 9.

“Everyone has been saying that Europe has been looking inside for several decades. Now the world problems are so acute. I hope the leaders will wake up and see the scale of the problems and start acting to do something about it,” said Lees, who chaired one of the summit sessions.

He said President Gorbachev would soon meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to continue the discussion.

Anastasia Poliakova, the North America Coordinator for The Gorbachev Foundation, said President Gorbachev has devoted much of his career to bringing peace and eradicating poverty, so the association with the SCLC is a good match.

“Poverty is one of the biggest challenges we face right now. Social issues are still very, relevant all over the world,” she said. “Mr. Gorbachev is committed to using his name and his influence to inspire, inform and educate the global community in support of Dr. King’s ideas and support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Dr. Steele in moving forward – connecting people together who are of the same mind.”


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