Keeping King’s dream alive starts with youth

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 22, 2004

It was the week of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday Celebration.

I had to go to Francis Marion High School.

The situation demanded it and my conscience demanded it.

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The occasion was a program dealing with Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence.

I just had to go.

Francis Marion High School has developed a culture of violence.

It is manifested through numerous fights in and out of school.

The community is engulfed in youth violence.

Something has to be done.

I am determined to help.

I had to go, but I also know that I must return again and again.

I stood before the huge auditorium filled with more than 400 students and faculty members. I wanted to involve the students to seize their attention.

I asked four students, two male and two female, to come on stage.

I asked two of them to sit in chairs near the front of the stage.

I asked the other two to try and provoke them for sitting in, a tactic used to desegregate public lunch counters in the sixties.

I explained how these students practiced non-violence in the face of being hit, pushed, spit upon and called racial slurs.

It was so much greater than the provocation today’s students face. These students’ of the sixties did not meet violence with violence.

The students of today too often meet violence with escalated violence.

I shared how Dr. King was viciously and violently attacked.

He was jailed repeatedly.

He was falsely charged and tried for tax evasion.

His life was threatened over and over again.

The lives of his wife and children were repeatedly threatened.

There were attempts to bomb his home.

He was viciously attacked in the media.

He was stabbed in the chest, coming close to death. He was hounded by the U.S. Government, particularly the FBI who tired to force him to commit suicide.

Every place he walked, slept or talked was bugged electronically to pick up his every word, every sound.

Dr. King practiced his philosophy of non-violence through all the violent attacks by words and deeds.

Yet, he was killed by a hate-propelled bullet on April 4, 1968.

His life, however, is a monument to the power of non-violence.

I tried to illustrate the power of non-violence.

I talked about expectations.

When someone attacks us by word or deed, they expect us to respond in like kind.

When we refuse to respond in like kind but still stand up to them, we take away their power.

It is not an easy concept to grasp, but it really works.

I told them about Gypsy, a beautiful and spirited young girl in Greenville, Tennessee.

She was a classmate of Faya Rose Toure.

A big powerful football player was also the school bully.

He bullied students at will, male and female.

One day he tried to bully Gypsy.

She refused to yield to his bullying.

He hit her upside the head and knocked her down.

Gypsy fell hard to the ground but got up.

He hit her in the face and knocked her down again.

She got back up but refused to yield.

He hit her in the face again and again, knocking her down five times.

Each time Gypsy got up.

In the end, she got one more time than she was knocked down.

After Gypsy got up the fifth time, the bully just did not know what to do.

He grapped Gypsy, wrapped both arms around her and just held her.

He started crying violently. He never again bullied anyone.

Gypsy’s non-violence conquered him.

I talked about how Jesus understood the power of non-violence when he advised us to turn the other cheek.

When we slap someone, we expect them to slap, hit or respond violently, at least in words.

We think that if we do not respond in like kind, the perpetrators are empowered.

However, when we do not respond in like kind but still stand up to them, their power is taken away.

It is hard for most human beings to keep beating someone who does not fight back or cower down.

It’s the power of non-violence.

I asked, “How many of you have been in a fight in the last two years?”

Most hands in the room went up.

Nicole Reeves, who was with me, asked, “How many of you have seen guns?”

Every hand went up.

Then she asked, “How many of you have used a gun?”

Most hands went up.

Nicole asked them to look at the student to their right, then their left, then in front and then behind.

When they finished, she said, “Violence will claim one of the four by death, jail, prison or school dropout.

Violence ruins lives.”

I challenged the students to use King’s non-violence philosophy and tactics of the sixties to conquer violence in today’s schools and communities.

I challenged them to transform our schools and communities through non-violence.

I ended my presentation with the circle of connection exercise.

Everyone held hands.

When each person lifts the right or left hand of persons connected by hands or pulls down either of their own hands, all hands connected in the circle go up or come down.

That happens when we are connected as family, communities or schools.

Faya Rose birthed the vision of using Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence to attack violence in our schools and communities.

J. L. Chestnut and others made presentations at Selma High and Selma C.H.A.T. Academy.

I did Francis Marion High and Faya Rose did Robert C. Hatch High in Uniontown.

It is truly an impactful way to help Dr. King’s Dream become a reality through the practice of non-violence.

The Dream/Vision is not yet dead.