"Structures of evil do not crumble by passive waiting. If history teaches anything, it is that evil is recalcitrant and determined, and never voluntarily relinquishes its hold short of an almost fanatical resistance. Evil must be attacked by a counteracting persistence, by the day-to-day assault of the battering rams of justice." – Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1968 book "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?"
Isn’t it cognitive dissonance for a nonviolence practitioner like Dr. King to preach about the need for battering rams? Kingian Nonviolence is a philosophy of engaged action based in values like Beloved Community and attacking problems not people, and using tools like conflict analysis, dialectical thinking, and strategic campaigns, to help practitioners become grounded, hopeful individuals and build powerful efforts for a reconciled world. . . to become nonviolent battering rams.
In December 2020, twenty-nine people completed the coursework component of On Earth Peace’s Level One Certification in Kingian Nonviolence. This spring they can earn their certification through twenty hours of practice teaching. We asked three of our cohort members to reflect on Kingian Nonviolence as a resource for today’s conflicts and problems. All three shared their reflections in a Martin Luther King Day program convened by On Earth Peace on January 18, with participants from the US, UK, the Philippines and India.
Read on for reflections from:
- Dwight Dunston, co-founder and teaching artist, City Love, a West Philly-based social justice music and education group (Philadelphia, PA)
- Katie Shaw Thompson, pastor, Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren (Elgin, IL)
- Thomas Dowdy, pastor, Imperial Heights Church of the Brethren (Los Angeles, CA)
Dwight Dunston, co-founder and teaching artist, City Love, a West Philly-based social justice music and education group (Philadelphia, PA)
I've been thinking a lot about the different tools, skills, and techniques, as well as my renewed commitment to my spirituality (I am Quaker) that I gained from my time during the KNV course. When I think about the different challenges and conflicts that folks face daily on the individual, interpersonal, communal, and societal levels, I've been thinking about a learning from the KNV course that I feel has been most helpful for me to stay rooted, unapologetically hopeful, and pointing towards the beloved community. During my time in the KNV course, it was very powerful for me to see the way that KNV is rooted in relationships. Whether one is looking at the 6 principles or 6 steps of KNV, or another aspect of organizing and community building that MLK or Dorothy Cotton or Ella Baker or others championed during the Civil Rights Movement, you will see that being in authentic, committed relationship with oneself and with members of one's community is essential. None of us alive today were alive at the beginnings of the communal or societal conflicts that we see around us today. And I believe that these conflicts have the power to be transformative for individuals and for society when we root the solutions to these conflicts in a commitment to healing and wholeness for the community. This was essential during the Civil Rights Movement and in KNV and feels essential today as well.
Sterling Duns (Dwight Dunston) is a West Philly based hip-hop artist, musician, educator, facilitator, organizer, and Quaker. (Kind of like the Bayard Rustin of hip hop, or James Baldwin as an emcee.) He holds a BA in English from Dickinson College and an MA in Poetry from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Sterling is a staff member and lead trainer with the University of Pennsylvania Lion’s Story racial literacy project and former coordinator of Equity and Justice Education at Friends' Central School.
Sterling has performed throughout the world with numerous groups, such as Hardwork Movement, and has shared the stage with many different musical acts such as Talib Kweli, QuestLove, Redman, Method Man, Rhiannon Giddens, and many more. His passion for music stems from his desire to make sense of the events that make our lives unique and intertwined, all at once. Sterling has worked with youth from all different backgrounds, at summer camps and in classrooms, for the last 10+ years and truly believes that if we empower and inspire the youth of today, our future will be in great hands.
Katie Shaw Thompson, pastor, Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren (Elgin, IL)
As I watched the violence of January 6th play out at the US Capitol and the ensuing aftermath, Kingian Nonviolence was much on my mind. One of Dr. King's six aspects of a nonviolent struggle was the idea of "somebodyness." He described it as, “the demoralized citizen overcom[ing] a disastrous sense of their own worthlessness." He called hearers to “with courage and fearlessness...set out to daringly stabilize our egos. This alone will give us confirmation of our roots and a validation of our worth.” When I saw those mostly white and Christian-claiming men storm the US Capitol, I was both saddened and convicted to see people who could easily be my relatives or members of churches I have served. I mourned the external violence that was wrought, as well as the internal violence I sensed in those human beings. Dr. King knew well the internal pain of allowing ourselves to hate our perceived opponents. In his autobiography, he wrote,"hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity." I wondered how easy it would be, given the right circumstances, for my own young white sons to receive messages that would convince them to join movements that fuel hate and condone violence. I fear there is a narrative in the United States that entices white Christians to believe that being a valuable "somebody" is based on their dominance over somebody else, rather than in their inherent "somebodyness." As I move forward as a Kingian Nonviolence practitioner and a white Christian leader in the US, I am thinking about my responsibility to proclaim an inherent "somebodyness" in ways that interrupt both "external violence and internal violence of the spirit" and that make the "beloved community" irresistible. I feel convicted to continue both saying no to violence and injustice while continuing to reach out a hand of welcome and compassion. I pray that in claiming our own "somebodyness" we will learn to respect the inherent, worth, value and "somebodyness" in us all.
Katie Shaw Thompson lives in Elgin with her husband, Parker, and two growing children. She is known for her carefully crafted sermons, empathic listening skills, advocacy for social justice, and year-round bike commuting.
Thomas Dowdy, pastor, Imperial Height Church of the Brethren (Los Angeles, CA)
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
In light of today's conflicts, Kingian Nonviolence (KNV) can be a valuable asset by redirecting local and world focus toward love for all humankind. Today's media present a lot of negative information, anger, rage, and murder whereas the KNV approach gets to the root of the issue. Beyond the Constitution's founders, Dr. King saw a land filled with all people's love for each other. Even though Dr. King witnessed much of the same kind of violence in his day that we see today, he focused on the outcome of what he truly believed, justice for all people for a beloved community. In the principles, KNV helps us to see the methodology for a win-win result. I have been transformed through these classes and look forward to sharing with others in the future.
Thomas Dowdy is an ordained pastor in the Church of the Brethren, a Fuller Theological Seminary graduate, and a retired Information Systems Professional. He’s a self-accomplished musician and enjoys all public speaking opportunities. His interest is his family, music, and cycling. He is a Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board Executive Committee member and a board member of Bridge Builders Foundation of Los Angeles. He is also the current president/Basileus of the Zeta Rho Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, with an emphasis on community service. He lives by a personal standard that “Life Is Good On Purpose. Service makes it happen.”