This week, we pause.
The sixth annual Ohio Nonviolence Week starts today in downtown Youngstown with its annual march and rally.
The event – hatched and conceived by retired Youngstown teacher Penny Wells – is the proverbial “pebble into the water whose ripples reach out into the unknown.”
Penny’s pebble of faith started six years ago as just one day with less than 100 people.
This week, the pebble grows into a boulder as 4,000 people will convene over five days in 15 locations.
The parade rally that started all of this with 35 groups of people will today surpass 70 groups when it starts at 3 p.m. at the Youngstown School Board building and heads to the Covelli Centre.
The core of the week is the assembly of great minds that join in from around the country. They are life stories that should one day become Hollywood movies. This year, two of those minds are sons of Youngstown coming home together for possibly the last time in their lives.
Simeon Booker and Nathaniel Jones are the pride of the South Side. At age 98 and 90, respectively, they have lived lives that championed change for millions of people around the world.
Booker was a brash and brave black journalist who produced stories from the bowels of the notorious 1950s and 1960s South in towns that killed men of his color.
Cloaked in ruses and false backgrounds and often driving in the dark of night to evade pursuers, Simeon crisscrossed the South reporting stories the white press dared not report. His work included the epic reporting on Emmett Till, which galvanized America’s Civil Rights movement.
Where Simeon toiled in dusty Southern towns and along violent divides between black and white, Nathaniel battled most of his time in boardrooms and courtrooms as a lawyer and judge.
Their lives combined, they personally have engaged the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Presidents Kennedy through Obama, Robert Kennedy, Emmett Till, Selma, the Freedom Rides and so many other people and places.
Booker and Jones have been friends since childhood when their families attended Third Baptist Church. They both would attend the Sunday afternoon lectures at the black YMCA run by Simeon’s father, which is now the Rescue Mission.
In their professional lives as they battled hate and segregation, they would cross paths often. It was Simeon who first told Judge Jones that President Kennedy had been killed.
This week, the Ohio Nonviolence Week group brings the two men together for a Wednesday evening event at the DeYor Center downtown. The inaugural Simeon Booker Award for Courage will go to Judge Jones in a program that aims to permanently bind the two men as sons of Youngstown who reached out across America and into its ugliest corners to make life better for others. Tickets are $10 and available at DeYor.
You can find all the information for the event on Facebook at “Ohio Nonviolence Week.” It is also listed on Vindy.com.
The goal for the week is to give people a chance to pause and ponder:
Where has America had challenges in the past?
Who have been special people who have challenged or survived such moments?
Can we learn from them? Can we do more?
Penny’s pebble-to-boulder path for this project has not been easy.
It’s thus a fine replica of the path of America. It’s a path we still forge today.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.