Kingian Nonviolence Training Inspires a Vision for a More Peaceful New Haven
Written by: Lisa Worth Huber, PhD
To mark the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the first attempt of the March from Selma to Montgomery, the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence (CTCN) conducted a Kingian Nonviolence training in New Haven on March 6-7.
Members of New Haven’s clergy, police, social workers, community leaders, AmeriCorps members, educators, and a select group of high school students gathered at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), one of the Center’s partners, for a two- day immersion in Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation.
This rigorous curriculum, co-authored by the legendary civil rights leader, Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., former strategist for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., provides proven methods to disrupt escalating violence, resolve multiple forms of conflict, and build cohesive, caring communities.
“It was an honor and pleasure to study the very principles that propelled the Civil Rights Movement forward while Selma celebrated the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday,” reflected Sarah Masotta community leader in New Haven.
“I felt I was learning at the foot of Dr. King,” said one high school participant. “This is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago,” When asked if he thought his peers would respond the same way, without hesitation he replied, “Absolutely! They’re starving for this stuff.”
As President Obama articulated in his speech at the foot of the Edmund Pettus bridge, “This is work for all Americans, and not just some . . . Not just white. Not just blacks . . . All of us need to recognize, as [the civil rights leaders did] that change depends upon our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children.”
Utilizing education to address attitudes, actions and moral principles is key to transforming the systemic violence in our cities and towns and it is at the heart of CTCN’s Kingian Nonviolence curricula.
It was the nonviolent education and diversity focus of the Kingian training that excited the New Haven police. Lieutenant Max Joyner and Sergeant Rob Maturo both agreed the Kingian approach would be a beneficial addition to their cadet training at the New Haven Police Academy.
Lieutenants Sam Brown and Brendan Hosey envisioned implementing the Kingian training as a helpful educational tool in their re-entry program with the formerly incarcerated.
In a widespread environment of civil unrest springing up from the Ferguson incident, this SCSU gathering provided a remarkable opportunity for deeper conversations about racial profiling and racial bias. The officers noted that the New Haven police department is recognized nationally as an outstanding example of community policing. For example, Police Chief Dean M. Esserman is part of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice led by Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington, D.C.
The officers also felt Kingian Nonviolence training is necessary in the schools.
“This is something the board of education should consider implementing,”
said Lt. Brown. “The kids need to hear this history and know they are part of humanity. It provides a forum for teens and youth to come together and talk about their differences in a collaborative and safe environment.”
The clergy, too, perceived great value in this training. Pastor John Lewis became certified in Kingian Nonviolence in the summer of 2014 with 25 New Haven residents. He continues to work with CTCN as a community liaison and invited a group of clergy to the two-day orientation, including Rev. Keith King. Rev. King started the Clergy Ambassadors Program in 2012 with the intention of strengthening ties between police and the community.
“Kingian Nonviolence could definitely become a part of the Ambassadors’ training,” Pastor Lewis said. “Our aim is about community relationships and reconciliation, which is the very fabric of Dr. King’s work and life.”
The conversation among the diverse group assembled at SCSU was passionate and committed. There was a shared desire to find meaningful ways to give voice to injustice. “Silence can be it’s own form of violence,” one participant said.
Others realized it was essential for each of us “to learn to become experts in nonviolence, like Dr. King, like those in the Civil Rights Movement.” Many expressed the need to find constructive ways to address the numerous forms of violence in our lives and in the community, be it physical, emotional, or intellectual.
CTCN’s Executive Director and Founder, Victoria Christgau, summed up the group’s sentiments well: “We have this opportunity to come together as local residents, from a wider variety of backgrounds, and interact substantively with police, clergy, human services, students, and faculty to build a bridge across divides, and to explore long-term solutions rather than reactive responses.”
Developing the inner strength and outer calm necessary to de-escalate violence, while actively engaging all factions of the New Haven community to work together to address the city’s concerns, requires a forum like Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation. Not only does this training provide the skills to address conflict, it also touches the heart and emphasizes a shared humanity.
When asked to reflect upon the Kingian Nonviolence two-day orientation, Masotta observed that attendees, coming from different sectors, generations, faiths, and cultures, all “felt a deep unity in our shared vision of a beloved community. We worked through the history, principles, and writings of MLK. His leadership inspired the heart, engaged the mind, and called the individual to pursue social justice actively with love.”
Lisa Worth Huber, PhD, is a peace and nonviolence educator and professor. She is Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Peace Academy; serves on the Advisory Board for The Connecticut Center for Nonviolence, and Academic Directors for CT’s first accredited MA program in Conflict Transformation at The Graduate Institute.