2009 Bishop Melvin Talbert Award for Racial Justice
This year’s recipient of the Bishop Melvin Talbert Award is best described as a tireless advocate for full constitutionally-based rights for all persons. Our recipient’s involvement as an advocate for justice began in the early 1980’s, serving on the Conference Hunger Education and Action Committee to deal with hunger issues and subsequently also serving on the Conference Missions Agency as the Refugee and Immigration Committee Chair and then as the Chair of the Working Group on Central America issues.
From 1988 to 1996, our recipient served on the Conference Board of Church and Society as the Peace and Justice Coordinator. During this same period, our recipient worked closely with the Oakland Coalition of the Homeless as they were becoming organized by assisting in the organizing and in political advocacy for housing in Oakland. At the same time, our recipient was involved in work with the Free South Africa Movement, participating in rallies, vigils, and demonstrations.
Our recipient’s other involvement in the 1980’s and 1990’s includes working in the peace movement and Faith-based Sanctuary Movement seeking justice for refugees from Central American countries, participating in witness and advocacy to turn back U.S. military intervention in Central America, opposing the first Gulf War through involvement with The Interfaith Coalition on the Middle East, which was organized by the Northern California Council of Churches, the American Friends Service Committee, and Muslim Community Organizations, and working on Native American rights and for freeing political prisoners, such as Leonard Peltier, Geronimo Pratt, and the Puerto Rican independence activists. As president of Ecumenical Peace Institute, our recipient assisted in organizing and hosting a National Council of Church’s hearing on racism, held at Taylor Memorial UMC in Oakland.
With a passion for the rights and justice of all of God’s people, our recipient has gone on a number of exposure trips abroad. His first trip was to El Salvador in 1986 when the war was still going on. Upon his return, he directly assisted many refugees El Salvador whom he had gotten to know and who were seeking sanctuary in the United States but being hunted by the Immigration and Nationalization Service. Some of those refugees were part of a collective that organized English as a Second Language and other classes at the Melrose UMC, Oakland where he was the pastor. He also traveled to The Philippines, in 1989, as part of a visiting delegation sponsored by the Northern California Ecumenical Council and by the Council of Churches of the Philippines. There he encountered a group of refugees, poor country people, who had been driven out of their homes by civilian “militia” units with the support of the Philippine Military. In 1995, he traveled to Haiti, following the first coup that ousted President Aristide. Returning from Haiti, he helped raise a significant amount of money to support Aristide’s party in a national senatorial election in Haiti.
Since 1989, our recipient has been active in the leadership of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) both in the California-Nevada Chapter and at a national level. While he was president of the California-Nevada Chapter MFSA brought a Native American churchman to the 1991 Annual Conference Session to speak at its dinner. He was invited back the next year as a speaker and the conference had a strong witness about the 500th year of the Columbus voyage and the poor treatment of native peoples in this hemisphere.
In all his work of advocacy for full constitutionally-based rights for all persons, our recipient is guided by two things learned from others. Quote: “1. To locate myself in venues and on issues that include folk with whom I might not immediately feel comfortable. 2. To listen and watch how folk are working for their rights and dignity and, when possible, help to apply the living word of the gospel in those situations.”
Bishop, members of the Annual Conference, and sisters and brothers, it is with great honor and delight that I present to you the Rev. Lee E. Williamson, a most worthy recipient of the 2009 Bishop Melvin Talbert Award for racial justice.
Presented by the Rev. Dr. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, Ph.D.