News & Events
2012 G. McLeod Bryan Awards Presented
“Always elevate the human element, in everything you do.”
Author and speaker Anne Corpening Morrison Welsh said these words have had a lasting impact on her life since she first heard them used as the theme of a moving speech given by then-UN Secretary General U Thant at an international gathering of Friends (Quakers) in 1967.
As the speaker at the G. McLeod Bryan Caring Awards lecture and banquet at Mars Hill College April 10, Welsh challenged her audience with this same phrase, and drew connections between its central message, and the actions of her first husband, Norman Morrison, who killed himself very publicly in 1965, in hopes of ending the Vietnam War.
Welsh is the author of Held in the Light, a memoir which describes her family’s emotional and spiritual journey following her husband’s self-immolation on the steps of the Pentagon. A devout Quaker, Morrison had been appalled by the violence in Vietnam and without prior warning, he left the couple’s Baltimore home, traveled to Washington D.C., and lit himself on fire outside the office of then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
In a simple and haunting speech, Welsh shared the events leading up to and resulting from her husband’s death, as well as her family’s long and emotional journey to healing. In so doing, she also drew parallels between her husband’s act of sacrifice and that of Tunisian fruit vendor Mohammed Boazizi, who immolated himself in December 2010 in Tunisia. Many regard that act as having set off a wave of protests for greater recognition of human rights throughout the Arab world, which has come to be known as the Arab Spring.
“Increasingly anguished by the war and its toll on civilians, my husband Norman Morrison gave his own life for the sake of those who were grievously suffering,” Welsh said. “A moral imperative led him to our great seat of power, the Pentagon, where he said — like Bouazizi would, years later — in the strongest way he could: Enough! Enough!”
Welsh recounted the emotional toil of failing to properly mourn her husband before taking up the banner of his cause as she worked to end the war in Vietnam. It was some years before she was able to acknowledge the depth of her feelings. A difficult but healing spot on the journey was the family’s eventual trip to Vietnam where, during a memorial service for veterans on both sides of the war, Welsh and her children planted trees in Morrison’s memory.
Welsh told her story not just as an unfolding of tragic events, but as a story of hope, forgiveness and faith. “Our story is … about an experience of being held in the Light of God’s grace, mercy, love and guidance. My hope is that it can also offer a window into the importance of peace and justice, our common humanity, and forgiveness,” she said.
The lecture was part of a series of events honoring the life and legacy of the late G. McLeod Bryan, an alumnus of Mars Hill College and a professor at Wake Forest University, who not only worked tirelessly for the cause of peace and justice, but influenced countless others to join the cause through the years.
Each year, one member of the faculty or staff, and one student are named as recipients of the G. McLeod Bryan Caring Award. The Bryan awards recognize members of the college community who make significant contributions to a better community and a better world.
The Caring Awards recognize recipients who have made a positive impact on the community, whose involvement in the community is ongoing, whose action in the community is directed at serious social challenges and who works to connect the campus and wider community.
This year’s recipients are Dr. Greg Clemons, professor of Spanish, and student Samantha Oldham.
Samantha Oldham is a senior business major and a Bonner Scholar from Houston, TX. Oldham has made a name for herself on campus with the annual Hunger Awareness Week movement. For the past three years, she has dedicated her service efforts to raising concern and awareness, and educating the campus and community on issues of hunger locally and globally. She works every year planning events that raise money for local charities like Neighbors in Need and MANNA Food Bank. She also plans educational events for students, faculty, and staff that address the pressing issue of food insecurity.
Oldham also volunteers with Three Streams Family Health Center, an organization that provides medical care to the uninsured and under insured of Buncombe County, and with Homeward Bound’s A HOPE Day center, a day shelter for homeless individuals in Buncombe County. At Three Streams, she has become something of an “honorary staff member,” helping the staff streamline client procedures and re-organize, as well as alleviating the work load of the center’s dedicated staff. At A HOPE, Oldham spends time assisting the staff to address the basic needs of hundreds by handing out food and toiletries, and being in community with those on the edge.
During her acceptance speech on Tuesday, Oldham cautioned her fellow students not to miss opportunities to really communicate with their fellow human beings.
“My generation likes to live behind their phones and laptops, and I’ll admit I really like my headphones,” she said. “But we are missing out on the opportunity to connect with others and learn what they have to share. Caring to me is about connecting with your fellow man in a moment and to be there for them in whatever way you can. It doesn’t matter if you are having the best day or the worst, making the connection with your fellow man to let them know they are not alone is most important to helping build community.”
Oldham also used a quote from author and speaker Leo Buscaglia to encourage her fellow students in the area of service. “Don’t spend your precious time asking ‘Why isn’t the world a better place?’ It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is ‘How can I make it better?’ To that there is an answer.”
Dr. Greg Clemons, who was nominated for the Bryan Award by MHC Ministry Associate Debra Alexander, is deeply involved – both on and off campus — in efforts to encourage students to reach their highest academic potential, and to broaden understanding of other cultures and of international human rights.
Clemons is known as a friend and mentor to many students. In addition to being a Spanish professor in both the traditional and adult programs at Mars Hill College, he is the coordinator of MHC’s foreign language program and the faculty leader of student trips to Chiapas, Mexico. He is the faculty advisor for Alpha Chi, an international society which honors students in the top ten percent of their classes, and he is the previous president of Alpha Chi’s Region III, covering the southeastern U.S. He also serves on the committee which plans and implements SLAM (Student Liberal Arts Mosaic), an exposition of student research and creativity on campus.
He is a frequent speaker in MHC’s classes about LGBTQ issues, and he is faculty co-sponsor of the student human rights group Safe Haven.
Off campus, he has served on the board of directors for the Asheville Sister Cities organization, the World Affairs Council of WNC, and on the board of the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina, the umbrella group for second language K-16 teachers across the state.
At his acceptance speech on Tuesday, Clemons spoke of Mars Hill College as a place where all students are honored, regardless of their many complex characteristics.
“As we all in this room tonight reflect on the amazing work and works Mac Bryan accomplished in his lifetime and the legacy that he has left us, it only seems fitting to me that we continue our praise for him by including sexual orientation as one of the necessary components to include in our struggle for human rights… in our world today, and on our campus here at Mars Hill College,” he said.
Clemons said he dedicated his award to the students at Mars Hill College, especially Mars Hill native Michael Holcombe, who have worked to make Safe Haven an officially recognized club on campus.
“Their work, their tenacity, and even their fear keep me coming to work five and sometimes six days a week in the hopes that they can see that whoever you are, gay or straight, wealthy or not, famous or trying to get there, does not and should not matter on the campus of Mars Hill College,” he said.
He thanked the administration of Mars Hill College, for helping to promote human rights, and he thanked Mac Bryan and his family: “not only for this award, but for his persistent dedication to what the Carnegie Foundation calls “real and permanent good.”