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What may be an important initiative to reduce youth violence in Evanston is being launched this summer. The Kingian Nonviolence program, named after and inspired by the life, work and principles of Martin Luther King, will be held from June 19 through July 31. Some two dozen Evanston Township High School students will earn $8.50 an hour while learning and applying the principles of Dr. King’s life and career to community service projects. By the end of the program students will be certified to train others in nonviolence principles.
The brainchild of Kevin Brown, Manager of Community Services for the City’s Parks, Recreation & Community Services Department, the summer program is a partnership between the City of Evanston and the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training.
Mr. Brown was first approached about Kingian Nonviolence in the summer of 2016 by Pam Smith and Gail Schechter, two co-founders of the Addie Wyatt Center. Both women had trained at the University of Rhode Island’s International Nonviolence Summer Institute. One of Dr. King’s last wishes, which he proposed on the day he died, was to “institutionalize and internationalize” nonviolence training.
“I was intrigued with the program, because our team does a lot of work with conflict resolution,” Mr. Brown said. “Our job is to identify and work with at-risk young people, providing them with the proper resources and job assistance to help them become good citizens.”
Ms. Schechter and Ms. Smith are no strangers to ETHS. Ms. Smith grew up in Evanston and graduated from the school in 1976. In April 2016, after having presented their Kingian Nonviolence program at several Chicago high schools, they convened a meeting with the leadership board of ETHS’s Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR) to discuss violence, racism and class differences at the school.
“The students wanted to get involved,” said ETHS history and sociology teacher Corey Winchester, the staff coordinator for SOAR. “They decided to adopt Kingian Nonviolence as one of their projects.
“What appealed to me,” he said, “was that this seemed to be a new way of thinking about a lot of issues in our society – a lens in how to resolve conflicts and bring about restorative practices to deal with what otherwise might lead to violence.” Mr. Winchester defined “violence” in broad terms: “Not just fighting but hateful speech, writing and conduct that result in racism, classism, homophobia, people feeling unsafe, all sorts of things that can lead to anger and anxiety.”
Keith Robinson, Assistant Principal at ETHS, felt the same way. “We at the high school were interested in exploring how we can align with and apply Dr. King’s practices of peace in a proactive way.”
The Kingian approach is based on the famed civil rights leader’s six principles of nonviolence: nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people; the Beloved Community is the framework of the future; attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil; accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal; avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence; and the universe is on the side of justice.
The summer program, to be held at the Morton Civic Center, will include instruction from Mr. Brown’s staff members, who have been certified as trainers in Kingian Nonviolence. Trainers also include Ms. Schechter and Ms. Smith as well as Addie Wyatt co-founders Sherri Bevel and Mary Lou Finley. Youth activists as well as civil rights leaders Timuel Black and Bernard Lafayette are scheduled to address the students. Ms. Schechter, who helped put together the summer program, described the Addie Wyatt philosophy as “a process for adopting nonviolence as a way of life and addressing the underlying causes of unjust social conditions” through Dr. King’s “philosophy and methodology of nonviolent conflict reconciliation.”
According to the Addie Wyatt website, trainees “study the life, work and teachings of Dr. King and explore how this philosophy of nonviolence can be applied to confront injustice and build towards the Beloved Community… [A]ttendees become familiar with a viable, practical and historically effective map for how to create lasting social change through nonviolent direct action; and how to dig deep below conflicts to find true reconciliation.”
Students in Evanston’s summer program will also participate in a number of field trips, including scheduled visits to the headquarters of Rainbow-PUSH and the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, as well as New Friendship Baptist Church and North Lawndale College Prep high school, where it “helped change the culture of the school to promote a more peaceful, nonviolent community,” Ms. Schechter said.
“Peace Warriors” at North Lawndale – students trained in Kingian Nonviolence – helped establish a climate in which the school regularly celebrates violence-free periods with school-wide Peace Days and an annual year-end Peace Celebration, said Jude Laude, a District 202 Board member and guidance counselor at North Lawndale. In the 2017-18 academic year, the school was violence-free 158 out of 168 days. “Kingian Nonviolence has definitely helped transform the school,” he said.
Since the SOAR focus group in 2016, Ms. Bevel, Ms. Schechter and Ms. Smith have co-led joint two-day student workshops here and in Chicago. The most recent workshop was held at ETHS in late winter, funded by a grant from the Evanston Community Foundation. At this point, Ms. Smith estimates, some 50 ETHS students have been trained in or exposed to Kingian principles, including senior Kai Gerberick. At the February-March workshop, he said the training helps “to convey and imbue” Dr. King’s principles. “It encourages an internal spiritual reckoning,” he said.
“Our goal is to address issues the students see as important, such as intolerance, racism, micro-aggression and the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Ms. Smith. “We want to train enough students to become effective ambassadors of peace in the school and, over the long term, have a ripple effect in the community.”
Students participating in the Evanston summer program were selected from youth who signed up for summer jobs through the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, said Mr. Brown. This group of young people, staff hopes, can benefit the most from the program and “empower other students to peacefully resolve conflicts that occur in the school and in the community” through such techniques as peace circles, mediation and Dr. King’s six principles, he said.
“We’re excited by the prospect,” he added. “We see ETHS becoming a place of peace, which contributes to the goal of education: to help young people grow, develop and reach their full potential. That’s what Dr. King wanted for every human being.”