Stand up against violence this week and every week


A rapid-fire stream of alarming contemporary headlines validates the truism that violence continues to careen out of control in our nation:

“US murders surged in 2015, FBI finds,” The New York Times reported.

“More than 800 Americans killed by police so far in 2016,” The Guardian newspaper’s U.S. edition summarizes on its online database.

“Hate crimes against Jews, Muslims rank high,” NBC News reported.

Sadly, many of us have become numb to such news and trends.

Others, however, refuse to accept heightened violence – often triggered by racism – as the new normal in this country. Prime among them is a stalwart group of resilient and idealistic Youngstown young people and its burgeoning army of allied adults and community groups.

This week, they are coalescing, standing up and being counted as the Buckeye State observes Ohio Nonviolence Week. Their movement and their message merit communitywide and statewide support and participation this special week and every week throughout the year.

Nonviolence Week, observed each year during the first full week of October, traces its roots to the Youngstown City School District, where a model American history program has evolved and grown under the passionate direction of Penny Wells.

Participants in the Sojourn to the Past program make a temporary weeklong stay each spring in some of the battlegrounds of the modern American civil-rights struggle 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 racist hatred.

But they also learn how principles of peace and nonviolence from the likes of Mahatma (“Great Soul”) Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 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 and most visible achievement of that campaign. It underscores the value of peace, tolerance and understanding.

Three years ago, the students of Sojourn successfully lobbied the state Legislature to make it an official statewide observance. Their work is now cemented in Ohio law.

THIS WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS

This year’s highlights of Nonviolence Week included Sunday’s Nonviolence Parade from Youngstown State University to Covelli Centre downtown for a rally featuring front-line soldiers in the battles for civil rights. Seventy-one groups and thousands of people stood up for nonviolence as the preferred means of conflict resolution.

Throughout the week, living legends from the golden age of the American civil-rights movement are taking part in lectures and presentations in the city. Among them are Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine who desegregated Central High School in the Arkansas capital in 1957 amid tension, violence and raw hatred.

A highlight of the week unfolds tonight at the Ford Auditorium of the DeYor Perfroming Arts Center downtown. There, Youngstown native Nathaniel R. Jones, a former appellate court judge and a giant in the civil-rights movement, will receive the Simeon Booker Award for Courage. Booker, also a Youngstown native, distinguished himself as a pioneer African-American journalist who exposed the atrocities of the Emmett Till lynching in 1954 Mississippi, and in so doing, launched the modern American civil-rights movement.

Clearly, the breadth and depth of 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, race riots and gang-banging street wars – now can gain uplifting 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 its active recruits from throughout the Valley. That’s why we encourage residents to support tonight’s DeYor program as a first step toward publicly embracing the praiseworthy principles of nonviolence and tolerance throughout this week – and every week.

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