In 2009, Vincent Harding, James and Phil Lawson founded the National Council of Elders to engage leaders of 20th century civil rights movements to share what they have learned with young leaders of the 21st century and to promote the theory and practice of nonviolence. The founders shared a sense of urgency caused by the escalation of all forms of violence and the rise of anti-democratic forces. Their intent was to increase and deepen important story-based dialogue with younger activists who are currently on the frontlines of activism across the U.S. Still active themselves, the Elders would play their part on current frontlines, sharing what they learned from the successes and failures of 20th century civil rights efforts.
From these origins, NCOE has become a council of 35 elders/activists who meet twice annually to analyze the current political landscape and to advance its work. Elders join with younger leaders to confront the escalation of all forms of violence and the rise of anti-democratic forces, using a framework that spans civil and human rights. NCOE embraces co-mentorship that shares analysis, strategies and skills across generations.
The National Council of Elders, as a whole or small groups or individuals, welcomes invitations from younger 21st century leaders to join in dialogue or action. These interactions combine an analysis of what has worked and what has not with the creation of new ideas to advance the work of today. These exchanges can be in person or face to face or through using current video technology. No one among the Elders is retired because of the shared belief that there is no retirement from the freedom movement, which lives in voice and deed.