Arun Gandhi Speaks at MLK Awards

By Steve Hoffman |

Arun Gandhi MLK Award

Antoinee Watson-Tayloy speaks with Arun Gandhi (Pantagraph/CARLOS T. MIRANDA)

The worldwide impact of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s philosophy of peace is often discussed, but his grandson encouraged a gathering in Normal on Saturday not to ignore individual responsibility in promoting a nonviolent world.

Speaking at the 35th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. awards luncheon, Arun Gandhi passed on wisdom he learned from his grandfather, whom he lived with as a teenager.

“We only look at his philosophy in terms of political conflicts, and how to resolve political issues,” Gandhi said at the event, sponsored by the Bloomington and Normal human relations commissions. “But it’s all about individual growth and individual decisions to become a better human being. That was something he used to teach us always when I was living with him.”

As an angry teenager living in South Africa, Gandhi said his parents decided to move him to India to absorb lessons from his grandfather, who was trying to gain independence for India through non-violent means in the 1930s and 1940s.

The soft-spoken Gandhi, now 76, told the crowd of 625 at Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center that he even tried to make his grandfather angry by interrupting him during meetings day after day.

“He just pressed my head to his chest and would continue talking to others in the room. But he never told me to leave the room. That’s when I realized I could control anger. If we can control anger, we could reduce the level of violence in our society.”

And although Mohandas K. Gandhi, who died in 1948, and Martin Luther King Jr. never met in person, Arun Gandhi felt there was a spiritual connection between them. King visited his grandfather’s former home in India in 1959 and spent a night in his study.

“When he came out of that room, I feel he was spiritually equipped to lead,” said Gandhi.

Ernestine Jackson, equal opportunity associate with the Bloomington Human Relations Commission, was inspired by Gandhi’s remarks. The speech followed recognition of 2011 Human Relations Award winners and the high school “I Have a Dream” recipients.

“It was just what I thought it would be. He’s such a soft-spoken man who has such profound things to say. The more I think about it, we heard Dr. King say the same kinds of things. And now I know why; because of that spiritual connection. It’s just profound,” said Jackson.

Gandhi now lives in the U.S., and is the founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester, New York. Near the end of his 30-minute talk, Gandhi once again issued a plea for everyone to make self-improvement a daily routine.

“It’s very important that you decide you are going to be a better human being today than you were yesterday, that life is not going around in circles from birth to death.

“Life is about climbing up the ladder so that each day you become a better person. And it’s only then that we can progress and become better human beings,” he said.

Copyright 2011

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