Nonviolence Week, born in Youngstown, continues to grow in its stature, impact


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

Violent crimes continued at a rapid clip in 2017, rising from 1,115,022 incidents in 2014 to 1,247,321 last year, the FBI reported last week.

Violent incidents in American schools increased 113 percent during the 2017-18 school year, a recent study by the Educator’s School Safety Network reported.

Hate crimes in the 10 largest cities in America increased 12 percent last year, reaching the highest level in more than a decade, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

Sadly, many of us have become numb to such news and to disturbing trends of increasing incivility in our culture.

Others, however, refuse to accept heightened violence – often triggered by prejudice, sexism and 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.

Beginning Sunday and continuing through next 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.

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 evolved and grew under the expert 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.

Five 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. The observance has only matured and grown in scope, impact and respect every year since.

NONVIOLENCE WEEK HIGHLIGHTS

This year’s Nonviolence Week is chock full of educational and engaging events. They begin 3 p.m. Sunday with the eighth annual Nonviolence Parade from Youngstown State University to Covelli Centre downtown for a rally.

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. She will be the featured attraction at the “Mingle With Minni” event Monday night at Flambeau’s restaurant on Market Street and will be this year’s national honoree at the Simeon Booker Award ceremony Tuesday night at the DeYor Center for the Performing Arts.

Among other events scheduled include a domestic-violence vigil Monday at First Presybterian Church, a literary night Wednesday at Barnes & Noble in Boardman and a student art reception Friday at the Students Motivated by the Arts center downtown.

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 positive attention as the birthplace and hub of a 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 Mahoning 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.

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