Activist’s Stories and Courage Inspire

With bravery, humor, and tales from his decades on the front lines of American protest, Quaker activist George Lakey held an audience of Friends Upper Schoolers rapt – and gave them hope.
Activist George Lakey during one of his many arrests
Activist George Lakey during one of his many arrests
Courtesy of the George Lakey Film Project

From the start, it sounded important.

Remember, go straight to the Auditorium when class ends. We have a guest speaker!” English teacher Helen Berkeley reminded students in an email on November 15, 2023.

This guest speaker was none other than George Lakey, an 86-year-old Quaker who fought for civil rights, against the Vietnam War, and for many other causes in his decades as an activist. After showing an excerpt from a documentary about his life, he spoke to the entire Upper School for club block one on Community Day.

Lakey had the audience rapt with his stories. He said his most memorable experience protesting is the 196? March on Washington. He especially remembers how big the crowd was.

Another story was about when he went to jail as part of another civil rights protest. Before they arrested him, police kept telling him to “sit down and get on the floor,” but he was not moving. Then the police were confused about which jail to go to. Lakey spent a week in jail, where he said protestors did a lot of marching and singing. 

The biggest moves forward require conflict. And if conflict scares you, it is an opportunity for courage.

— George Lakey

He told students that he strongly believes in protesting where there is injustice. Lakey has been to many protests, and has been arrested many times. His longest stay in jail was for three weeks. 

Despite the risks, he says he believes courage is important. And to be brave, he said, you have to be afraid.

“Courage is the ability to do something even though you are afraid to do it!” said Lakey.

He told students he strongly believes that courage is something we all need, not just for protesting and standing against injustice, but also in everyday life. 

In his talk, Lakey used historical examples to illustrate that where conflict exists there are opportunities for courage to emerge. Speaking about the chaotic 1930s and the transformative 1960s, Lakey argued that courage played a pivotal role in the progress made during this time.

“The biggest moves forward require conflict,” he told students. “And if conflict scares you, it is an opportunity for courage.¨ 

Many students were excited and interested by Lakey’s presentation. Senior Nigel Lewis was one of them.

¨He is a wise man who lived through a lot of important experiences,¨ he said afterward.

Senior Ronan Glick agreed. 

¨He is a good person with a great attitude toward what he is doing,¨ he said.

Lakey has helped and reached the community in so many ways. He says as long as he lives, he wants to live his Quaker values, standing up for what he believes in, and protesting wherever injustice is.

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