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Nonviolence movement takes root in Youngstown and soars

Saturday, October 5, 2013

For the first time in Ohio his- tory, state residents officially will mark Nonviolence Week beginning Sunday. In Youngstown, the Mahoning Valley and throughout Ohio, organized events will promote violence prevention and awareness of the rewards of nonviolent behaviors.

The seeds for the weeklong statewide observance were planted in Youngstown by a remarkable group of young people involved with the Sojourn to the Past program in the city schools. We commend the students and their mentors who have worked so tirelessly to plan, promote and even lobby the Ohio General Assembly to make their dream a reality.

Their perseverance paid off three months ago when Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 38, sponsored by Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman. It designates in the Ohio Revised Code that the first full week of October will forever more be observed as Nonviolence Week.

It is now up to the rest of us to capitalize upon and support the students’ praiseworthy achievements. We can begin by supporting Sunday afternoon’s Nonviolence Parade and rally in downtown Youngstown.


Dictionaries define “sojourn” as a temporary stay. Participants in the Sojourn to the Past program under the direction of Penny Wells make a temporary week-long stay in some of the battlegrounds of the modern American civil-rights movement in the South. In Selma, in Montgomery, in Birmingham, in Jackson and elsewhere, they learn the historic details of some of this nation’s most evil displays of violence and hatred. They also learn how principles of peace and nonviolence overpowered the atrocities and inspired positive and enduring progress.

When the students return to Youngstown, they use those lessons to effect visible change in their community. Nonviolence Week represents the crowning achievement of that campaign to underscore the value of peace, tolerance and understanding.

This year’s highlight of Nonviolence Week happens tomorrow, when individuals and groups will meet at 3 p.m. to march in the third annual Nonviolence Parade from the campus of Youngstown State University to Central Square in downtown for a rally featuring front-line soldiers in the battles for civil rights. Last year, about 500 people took part.

The Sojourn students’ efforts merit communitywide support and bigger crowds this year. They have tangibly demonstrated their commitment to nonviolence in a variety of ways: registering more than 1,000 people to vote, bringing national players in the civil rights struggle to Youngstown for programs, and sponsoring nonviolence awareness activities such as next week’s citywide art contest.

The students’ victory in winning statewide recognition also illustrates the power of dedication and persistence, strengths that will serve the students well in reaching for all goals in life.


We join state Sen. Schiavoni in saluting the Sojourners. As he said, “I’m so happy to see that the hard work of students in the Mahoning Valley to help prevent violence has paid off. I believe that this legislation will be used as a starting point for communities around the state to have meaningful conversations on how to prevent violent acts in our schools, neighborhoods and everywhere else.”

Clearly, the message of nonviolence can never be echoed too loudly or too forcefully. It is particularly uplifting that Youngstown — once best known as a hotbed of mob violence, contract killings and gang-banging street wars — now can gain attention as the birthplace and hub of a promising statewide movement predicated on peace and nonviolence.

Its success, however, can only be as strong as the size and passion of the corps of foot soldiers it recruits from throughout the Valley. That’s why we encourage residents to attend Sunday’s rally as a first step toward publicly embracing the praiseworthy principles of nonviolence and tolerance this coming week — and every week.