Press Release

Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr. and Former Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao Explore Gandhi’s Influence on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

December 10, 2018


(Houston, TX) – To honor the life and work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Chapel will host a public program featuring a short address by civil rights activist and organizer Rev. Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., and former Indian ambassador Nirupama Rao. The program will be held at 7 p.m. on Dr. King’s birthday, Tuesday, January 15, 2019. 

Following the address, award-winning journalist and Channel 13 reporter Melanie Lawson will moderate a conversation exploring the influence of Mahatma Gandhi on Dr. King, especially the importance of non-violence in social change movements.

Texas-based musicians Indrajit Banerjee on sitar and Shantilal Shal on tabla will perform from 6:30-7 p.m. before the program begins, and the Phillip Hall Singers will perform Gospel music as the program comes to a close.

Leading up to the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth in 2019, the Houston Gandhi Library has organized a year-long metropolitan-wide celebration. The Rothko Chapel is presenting our MLK program in conjunction with the Sesquicentennial.  The Chapel started this important gathering in 1979 to lift up the contemporary implications of Dr. King’s legacy to the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights, captured through artist Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk. This sculpture, located on the plaza adjacent to the Chapel, is dedicated to Dr. King. Recent MLK presenters include national syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris, and global hip-hop artist David Banner. 

“In a world as fractured and violent as ours is today,” said David Leslie, Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel, “this is a reminder that nonviolence is part and parcel of effective social change movements, and there is a need for leadership today of the same magnitude as that of MLK and Ghandi.”

This program is a pay-what-you-can event with a suggested donation of $20 and includes a reception on the plaza after the program. The Rothko Chapel is located at 3900 Yupon, Houston, 77006.

Program Participants

Rev. Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., is an ordained minister, a longtime civil rights activist, organizer, and an authority on nonviolent social change.  He co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, and he was a core leader of the civil rights movement in Nashville, TN, in 1960 and Selma, Al, in 1965.  He directed the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962, and he was appointed by Martin Luther King, Jr., to be national program administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and national coordinator of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.  Dr. LaFayette earned his B.A. from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, TN and his Ed.M. and Ed.D. from Harvard University.  Dr. LaFayette has served as Distinguished Scholar in Residence and Director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

Born in Kerala, India, Nirupama Menon Rao is a retired Indian diplomat, Foreign Secretary and Ambassador.  She joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1973.  During her four-decade long diplomatic career she held several important assignments.  She was India’s first woman spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, the first woman high commissioner from her country to Sri Lanka, and the first Indian woman ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.  She served as India’s Foreign Secretary from 2009-2011.  At the end of that term, she was appointed India’s Ambassador to the United States where she served for a term for two years from 2011-2013.  On her retirement from active diplomatic service, Ambassador Rao entered the world of academics with an appointment as Meera and Vikram Gandhi Fellow at the India Initiative at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Melanie Lawson is a native Houstonian and award-winning journalist. Lawson has interviewed a range of notable figures, including three U.S. Presidents, Henry Kissinger, the Dalai Lama, poet Maya Angelou, Destiny’s Child, George Foreman, Spike Lee, and Barbara Walters. Lawson is also a member of the Board of Directors of Rothko Chapel.

Sitarist Indrajit Banerjee is one of the leading exponents of the Maihar Gharana.  He has produced several albums and composed music for documentary films.  Indrajit runs the Antara School of Indian Classical Music (ASICM). 

Tabla player Shantilah Shah was born and raised in the culturally and artistically vibrant city of Banaras, India. He has been studying and performing Indian classical music with intense passion for the last 40 years and is currently on the faculty of the Indian Music Society of Houston.
The Phillip Hall Singers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the musical and social enrichment of the greater Houston area. The group's major goal is to become cultural ambassadors for the city of Houston by presenting quality performances of anthems, spirituals, hymns, pop, Broadway, and gospel music.

About Rothko Chapel

The Rothko Chapel is open to the public every day of the year at no charge. It is a contemplative space that successfully interconnects art, spirituality, and compassionate action through a broad array of free public programs.  Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary.  Today it stands as a monument to art, spirituality, and human rights. As an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, the Chapel depends on contributions from foundations and individuals to support its mission of creating a space for contemplation and dialogue on important issues.

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