Monday, March 29, 2010

The King Center Shifting Focus Towards Local Grassroots work!!

AFSC has a deep connection with Dr, Martin Luther Kings work. It was AFSC that set up and financed a tour of India for Coretta Scott and Dr. King to meet with folks that had worked directly with Gandhi. It was AFSC that first published the famous, "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" and distributed it nationally. It was AFSC that nominated Dr. King for his nobel peace prize. It was AFSC that built the King family a retreat center in North Carolina that Dr. King never got to set foot into as a result of his assassination.
I can honestly say that my choice to pursue employment at AFSC was greatly influenced by the historical connection to Dr. King. His writings have extremely influential and have played a major role in my personal and professional evolution. So I was surprised to discover, after I accepted the job at AFSC Atlanta, that we had really no connection at all to the King Center. In fact in one takes a tour of the King center they would really see or read nothing of AFSC. I've often browsed the King Centers website looking for ways that AFSC could plug into something the King Center is working on.
Finally, the opportunity came! Jeremy Foreman, a staffer from Hands On Southeast Georgia and follow GPJC member, suggested that the King Center sponsor a workshop for our upcoming "Be the Change" Youth Convergence. This of course made perfect sense because the grounding text for the workshop is Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech. Jeremy had been working with the King Center and was willing to help me make the initial contact.
The King center invited me to participate in a two day Kingian Nonviolence Education training which is part of their "Beloved Community Network" project. In an effort to combat the obvious institutional racism that we live with today the King Center is trying to train hundreds of potential trainers that will be sent out to community centers, high risk schools, and Churches in an effort to institutionalize nonviolence. The Beloved Community, as Dr. King defined it, is a global vision, an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood, where people can share in the wealth of the Earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger, racism,violence, and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of decency will not allow it.
While at the training I was able to meet trainers that were at the last stage of the training, preparing to use what they has learned to reach out to their communities. There were former Atlanta gang members, felons, members of the clergy. There were a few dozen Nigerians, some of whom were former warlords that had grown heartsick of war and violent conflict resolution.
The workshop taught Kingian nonviolent conflict resolution as a practical alternative to violent resolution.
The workshop facilitated by Dr. Benard LaFayette, who has been a hero of mine every since I started studying King. Dr. LaFayette was a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), a leader of the Nashville Movement, and the Freedom Rides. I had the opportunity to spend one of the breaks talking with him and I learned that he actually used to work for AFSC. He told me that AFSC actually got him involved in the peace movement and proceeded to swap a few AFSC stories with me! Pretty amazing!

Charles Alphin also facilitated portions of the workshop. His story was pretty compelling. He was a police captain in St Louis for 26 years and used to write off Dr. King's nonviolence as a waste of time. In fact he admits to teaching, encouraging, and participating in many violent actions that he's ashamed of. In the late 70's he met Dr. LaFayette and had a convergence experience, retired from the force and at the request of Mrs Coretta Scott King moved his family to Atlanta and eventually became the Director of Education and Training for the King Center.
There was a last minute presentation at the training by CT Vivian! Another giant of the civil right movement. He helped found the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference, and helped organize the first sit-ins in Nashville in 1960 and the first civil rights march in 1961. Vivian rode the first "Freedom Bus" into Jackson, Mississippi, and went on to work alongside Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, Diane Nash, and others on SCLC's Executive Staff in Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, Nashville, the March on Washington; Danville, Virginia, and St. Augustine, Florida. Some claim that the St. Augustine campaign helped lead to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Vivian's role in it was honored when he returned to the city in 2008 to dedicate a Freedom Trail of historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement.

During the summer following the Selma Movement, Vivian conceived and directed an educational program, Vision, and put 702 Alabama students in college with scholarships (this program later became Upward Bound). His 1970 Black Power and the American Myth was the first book on the Civil Rights Movement by a member of Martin Luther King's staff. I note all that just to give an idea of what is was like to be in such an intimate setting with these folks, these living breathing history volumes.
So the King Center is currectly looking into the possibility of sponsoring a workshop at thei years, "Be the Change" and AFSC Atlanta is looking at the possibility of getting some of our folks to participate in the Kingian Nonviolence trainings that are coming up some...let me know if you're interested.

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee


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