Jonathan Lewis has trained some of South America’s most notorious criminals to embrace non- violence. He’s done similar work in South Africa, Nigeria, Chicago and Wisconsin, where he is training college students and faculty on handling conflicts peacefully.
It’s easy to see how college students might embrace nonviolence. They are young and generally open to change. But what about people for whom violence is a way of life? How do you get them to see the merits of changing their behavior?
Lewis, a.k.a. “Globe”, says it’s a matter of appealing to their intelligence and getting them to open their mind to a new way of responding to conflict. He is a Level 4 trainer in “Kingian” nonviolence. Named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it has used successfully to change people’s behavior throughout history.
If you saw “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, you’ll remember the Gaines family sending their son Louis to Fisk University in Nashville. While there, he learned non-violent social resistance from Dr. James Lawson, who modeled his training on the nonviolent civil disobedience practiced by India’s great leader, Mahatma Ghandi. The students used the training in sit-ins and other demonstrations.
Lewis, 36, lives in Selma, Ala. and works with students on an Alternative Spring Break program where they learn nonviolent conflict resolution tactics to take back to their respective universities. He is also working with high school students in Selma, where segregation persists and job opportunities are few.
He has founded an organization called Positive Peace Warrior Network. It’s a concept teenagers can relate to because everyone likes the idea of being a warrior. He suggests students view warriors as people who are committed, strong, honorable and courageous.
Young people, Lewis says, want to deal with current day problems like bullying and gang violence differently, but they often don’t know how. If you can train athletes and other popular students in high school to resolve conflicts differently, they can serve as peer mentors, he says.
At a college prep school in Chicago, students have been practicing “Kingian” nonviolence for several years. As a result, there has been a 90 percent reduction in school violence on the campus.
I met Lewis in Washington, D.C. the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream speech.” He and others were brought together by Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., for a commitment ceremony.
Dr. LaFayette, 73, is a senior scholar in residence at Emory University and serves and chairman of the board for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He has worked all over the world with people who previously solved their problems with violence. In 1968, he led Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign and pledged Dr. King that he would continue his work. It is a commitment he lives daily.
On a bright, beautiful Sunday morning, we stood just outside the “Mountain of Despair”, part of the monument to Dr. King on the National Mall. Monument designers created a stone of hope cut from a mountain of despair. The design captures the spirit of our people in the 1950s and 1960s, when they struggled to break down stereotypes and long-held prejudices by demonstrating their humanity.
The weekend was a time for inspiration and action. It required us to think about ways we can recommit to the ideals of Dr. King.
Rev. C.T. Vivian of Atlanta and Dr. LaFayette were part of the Nashville Student Movement to desegregate lunch counters, movie theaters and other public facilities. The disciplined and well-trained students in Nashville prevailed, breaking the back of segregation in that city. Many of the demonstrators, including Rev. Vivian and Dr. LaFayette, joined the 1961 Freedom Rides, which tested federal laws enacted to desegregate Greyhound and Trailways buses. More than 400 students and adults of all races made the rides through the Deep South where they met with violence and imprisonment.
Watching “The Butler” I wondered if I could keep my composure if someone splashed hot coffee in my face or poured ketchup in my hair or worse. And I’ve been thinking about this: what do I believe so strongly in that I’d be willing to die for?
To learn more about the Positive Peace Warrior Network go to http://www.ppwn.org
The six principles of “Kingian” nonviolence, as taught by Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr.:
— You can’t practice nonviolence unless you have courage.
— You have to be willing to accept suffering for the sake of the cause. For instance, if you want to try to reach a goal, such as making an ‘A’ in a class, you can’t go out and party, you’ve got to sacrifice.
— Attack the forces of evil, not the person who is doing the evil. “When we did the Freedom Rides, we weren’t there to confront those people who were attacking us; we were attacking the system that allowed discrimination to take place, ” said Dr. LaFayette.
— Accept suffering without retaliation for the cause.
— Avoid violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. “Sometimes emotional and psychological scars take longer to heal than others,” according to Dr. LaFayette.
— The universe is on the side of justice.