Civil Rights Pioneer, Business Leader to Receive Honorary Doctorates from CSUN

California State University, Northridge will confer honorary doctorates on acclaimed civil rights activist the Rev. James Lawson and accounting industry leader Harvey Bookstein during its commencement ceremonies this month.

Bookstein, a CSUN alumnus known for his philanthropy, community leadership and achievements in the fields of finance, real estate and accounting, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 22. Lawson, an internationally respected civil rights leader, advocate for social justice and CSUN faculty member, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the College of Humanities and College of Health and Human Development commencement ceremony on Monday, May 23.

“I am pleased to honor Rev. James Lawson and Harvey Bookstein for their significant contributions to CSUN — and the world,” said CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison.

“Harvey Bookstein has spent a lifetime building a successful career, and his legacy at CSUN is felt by the students, faculty and staff who have benefited from his philanthropy, as well as the hundreds of community members who have received critical tax services through the Bookstein Institute,” Harrison said. “Rev. James Lawson is a titan of the civil rights movement and a direct link to the social justice movement that brought much-needed change to our country. He exhibited his commitment to the next generation of activists time and time again by sharing his experiences and his knowledge with our students.

“I am personally grateful to both honorees for their enduring connection to CSUN and the broad impact both have had on society as a whole,” she said.

The Rev. James Lawson, seen here speaking to a group of students, is receiving an honorary doctorate from CSUN. Photo by Lee Choo.

The Rev. James Lawson, seen here speaking to a group of students, is receiving an honorary doctorate from CSUN. Photo by Lee Choo.

Lawson said he was touched to learn that he was receiving an honorary doctorate from CSUN.

“When the letter arrived [informing me of the honor], I had no idea the process was going on,” he said. “It was a total surprise to me and my family, but it was a pleasant surprise. It means a great deal to me. It is quite an accomplishment to receive such an honor from the largest Cal State campus in the CSU system.

“I see it as a recognition of not so much of what I have done, but a reflection of the work being done by the great multiplicity of people who have engaged with me across the decades to affect nonviolent, positive change,” said Lawson, who has spent the past six years working with CSUN’s Civil Discourse & Social Change Initiative.

Bookstein said he was “extremely honored” to receive the doctorate. “I am still having a tough time understanding why me.”

“I don’t think I do anything that unique,” said Bookstein, a leading authority in real estate and estate and tax planning who has spent decades mentoring and supporting CSUN business students. “To be honest, I think everyone should care this much about giving back to their alma mater or to the community. In many ways it’s selfish, because what you get back is so much more than you could ever give: to see the difference you make, to see people, students, asking questions they may not have thought of before. I can’t think of a better return on your investment, if you want to use a business model. There is nothing greater than what you feel inside.”

Harvey Bookstein is receiving an honorary doctorate from CSUN.

Harvey Bookstein is receiving an honorary doctorate from CSUN. Photo by Lee Choo.

Bookstein, a certified public accountant who graduated from CSUN in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, has nearly 50 years of public accounting experience and specializes in providing tax, accounting and business consulting services to clients in the real estate and high-net-worth practice areas. Since he graduated from CSUN, he has become recognized as one of California’s most respected certified public accountants. Bookstein is a senior partner of prestigious national CPA firm Armanino, after merging his firm that he co-founded in 1975 — RBZ — last year. He also specializes in financial issues relating to children, divorce and the development of strategies to pass family wealth from one generation to the next — including a method he developed and registered a trademark for called “Therapeutic Accounting®.” Bookstein authored a book, “Wake-Up Call,” where he describes his life experiences that led to the creation of “Therapeutic Accounting®.”

Bookstein and his wife, Harriet, a CSUN alumna, have been longtime supporters of CSUN and its David Nazarian College of Business and Economics. Several of the Bookstein’s children are also alumni of CSUN. Over the years, Harvey Bookstein has guest lectured in dozens of classes and mentored hundreds of CSUN students. In 2005, he and his wife donated $1 million for the creation of the Harvey and Harriet Bookstein Chair in Taxation and the Bookstein Institute for Higher Education in Taxation. Among other things, the institute assists about 130 low-income taxpayers each year to resolve their disputes with the IRS — free of charge. Active on several CSUN boards, Bookstein received CSUN’s prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009. He also received the Dorothea “Granny” Heitz Award for Outstanding Volunteer Leadership. Named in honor of the woman whose loyalty and school spirit made her a legendary figure on campus, the award is presented annually to alumni or friends who serve the university as outstanding volunteer role models and leaders.

Lawson was born in Pennsylvania in 1928. His father and grandfather were Methodist ministers, and Lawson received his local preacher’s license in 1947, the year he graduated from high school. At his Methodist college in Ohio, he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), America’s oldest pacifist organization. Through FOR, he was first exposed to the nonviolent teachings of Gandhi and fellow black minister Howard Thurman.

In 1951, Lawson was sentenced to three years in prison for resisting military conscription. He was paroled after 13 months, obtained his B.A. in 1952, and spent the next three years as a campus minister and coach at Hislop College in Nagpur, India. While in India, Lawson eagerly read of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emerging nonviolent resistance movement back in the United States.

By 1957, Lawson decided he could no longer sit on the sidelines. He opened a FOR field office in Nashville, Tenn., where he began holding seminars to train volunteers in Gandhian tactics of nonviolent direct action. Drawing on the example of Christ’s suffering, he taught growing numbers of black and white students how to organize sit-ins and any other forms of action that would force America to confront the immorality of segregation.

Lawson helped coordinate the Freedom Rides in 1961 and the Meredith March in 1966, and while working as a pastor at the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, he played a major role in the sanitation workers strike of 1968. On the eve of his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. called Lawson “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

In 1974, Lawson moved to Los Angeles to be the pastor of Holman United Methodist Church. He hosted a weekly call-in show, “Lawson Live,” where he discussed social and human rights issues affecting minority communities. He spoke out against racism and challenged the Cold War and U.S. military involvement throughout the world. Even after his retirement, Lawson was protesting with the Janitors for Justice campaign in Los Angeles, and with gay and lesbian Methodists in Cleveland.

For the past six years, Lawson has been affiliated with CSUN’s Civil Discourse & Social Change Initiative, teaching a course about nonviolent conflict social movements.

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