As part of the ongoing initiative, We Stand Against Hate: Enhancing Understanding and Compassion at Brooklyn College, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the political activist, author, and psychotherapist visited the campus last week to give a talk entitled “Strategies to Combat Racism and Anti-Semitism: The psychodynamics of American Politics.”

Lerner advised the campus community to stand for something, articulate a desirable world vision, and shoot for the stars.

“Martin Luther King did not become an icon of social change by giving a speech that said ‘I have a complaint,” said Lerner. “No, he dreamed of a different kind of world.”

Lerner, who describes himself as a spiritual progressive, was lamenting that in the current political environment, it can be easier to protest than to map out and actively work towards positive change. He also encouraged young people to dream big.

“Every fundamental change that ever happened did so because people were willing to stand up for something they believed in that was totally unrealistic at the time,” he said. “Don’t waste your time on this planet fighting for what people tell you is realistic. Instead, go for your highest vision of the good.”

Lerner is the rabbi of Beyt Tikkin Synagogue in Berkeley, Calif. He was one of the leaders of The University of California at Berkeley’s infamous Free Speech Movement in the 1960s and he went on to get involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement, organizing meetings featuring leading figures of the day like activist and boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He has remained active in social change movements and has merged his training as a psychotherapist and philosopher to looking broadly at ethical issues facing society.

He is also the author of several books, including Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East (North Atlantic Books, 2011), The Left Hand of God: Taking Back America from the Religious Right (HarperOne, 2006), and with Cornel West, Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin (Putnam Adult, 1995).

The WSAH program series, now in its second year, was developed in response to both challenges the college has faced with conflict on campus and to national political divisions. Begun by President Michelle J. Anderson, WSAH aims to increase the campus discourse around difficult political issues while also enhancing compassion, inclusiveness, and peace.

Visit the WSAH page for a full list of events.