- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

Call him irascible, stubborn, argumentative; he is all that. Also call him passionately committed to empowering people, especially the downtrodden.

You have seen the snowy-haired Lawrence Thomas Guyot Jr. debating about civil rights and racism on cable television with the likes of Bill O’Reilly. You have heard him making passionate pleas for the poor, the homeless and the disenfranchised with the likes of Joe Madison on XM Radio. For certain, you have noted this quintessential community activist quoted numerous times, particularly about D.C. voting rights, in this column. You have probably passed him on street corners, handing out fliers and petitions for all manner of elections and even ungrateful politicians.

Yet, you can’t be that visible and vociferous without burning a few bridges and ruffling a lot of feathers. And, it speaks volumes about the unwavering principles of a 68-year-old lawyer who has managed to tick off friend and foe alike at one point or another, including yours truly.

“Mr. Guyot is one of the few men I have ever met who consistently takes principled positions on the important issues of our times and does not waver without regard to the force of the opposing point of view,” said James D. Berry Jr., a former Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner.

Tony Norman, a D.C. lawyer for community groups and nonprofit organizations, acknowledged that Mr. Guyot has created waves and may be “stuck in the ‘60s,” as some of his detractors charge. “But that’s not a negative. There was something to using government and activism to change society; now it’s ‘me-ism’ and ‘my-neighborhood-ism,’ ” he said.

“Mr. Guyot, unlike others, didn’t use the civil rights movement for his own personal gain and lost the cause for which he started out,” Mr. Norman said.

Mr. Norman and Mr. Berry are among Mr. Guyot’s friends and compatriots who will be honoring him at two events next week for three decades of service in the civil rights movement and civic activism in the District.

One is an intergenerational symposium, “Organization v. Mobilization,” to discuss the history, impact and relevance of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, of which Mr. Guyot was a founding member. It is being hosted by the Howard University Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other student groups at the School of Business on Wednesday evening. Former SNCC members Timothy Jenkins, Martha Norman Noonan and Julian Bond are among the invited speakers.

“Mr. Guyot was instrumental is getting me involved as an activist locally,” said Nate Mathews, 26, one of the symposium’s organizers. He had learned about Mr. Guyot’s work in Mississippi before meeting him after he moved to the District to attend Howard. “I am constantly impressed with how he has maintained his vision over the long haul.”

The second event is a dinner tribute to Mr. Guyot at the Washington Navy Yard on Thursday evening sponsored by donations from the local activists who have worked with him. This is not a fundraiser, but any proceeds from the $30-a-plate affair will be donated to a charity or scholarship of Mr. Guyot’s choice.

Mr. Norman, who stressed Mr. Guyot’s impact in forcing Howard University to redevelop housing in the LeDroit Park area, said, “We are tired of honoring people who are dead.” Mr. Guyot said his health is better but that it’s no secret he has struggled with several challenges, including diabetes, hypertension and a kidney transplant in recent years.

“I have asked no quarter, I have given none, and I am glad to talk about the issues that we can use to transform America so government can regain our respect and deal with our problems,” Mr. Guyot said.

A native of Pass Christian, Miss., and a graduate of Tougaloo College, Mr. Guyot made contributions that are documented in the book “Putting the Movement Back Into Civic Rights Teaching.” Deborah Menkart, executive director of Teaching for Change, said Mr. Guyot has been a “tireless promoter in getting the word out about this book that helps tell the full story of the civil rights movement, particularly the role of ‘ordinary’ people.”

His outreach work in Macomb, Miss., alone is notable, she said, because “not a single student knew the history of their own communities which in a few short decades has been erased from their own education.”

Mr. Guyot said his goal has been “to see racism be recognized and destroyed in my lifetime.”

These “long overdue” tributes to Mr. Guyot are being sponsored, in part, “because we wanted to inspire a call to action and service for young folks in the tradition of SNCC,” Mr. Berry said. “But if we do nothing more than show Mr. Guyot the love and appreciation that he deserves because of the sacrifices he has made for humankind across the years, we will be satisfied and will have accomplished what our group set out to do.”

For more information about the SNCC symposium or the dinner tribute, call Mr. Berry at 202/528-5428, Mr. Norman at 202/319-0955 or Mr. Mathews at 202/607-1709.

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