2006-07-27 / News

King-inspired nonviolence seminar intrigues teens and adults

By Sam Bari

The six teens seated in a semicircle at St. Matthew's Parish Hall appeared to be tense for the first few minutes of the Kingian nonviolence seminar held last week. They fielded unusual questions and participated in interactive exercises that made them think about how they relate to others in ways they had never considered. After a few minutes of adjusting their thinking, they began to understand the purpose of the activities. They then relaxed and eagerly contributed ideas and perceptions generated from their life experience. The questions and exercises were initiated by April Wilson and Paul Cirillo, two friendly but intense instructors of the Dr. Martin Luther King philosophy of nonviolence.

While the teens were put through their paces to learn the Kingian nonviolent methodology of resolving conflict, adults participated in similar lessons designed for mature students at a separate program held at Central Baptist Church, two doors away.

Jamestown resident Laura Clarke, the director of the counseling and referral center at Thompson Middle School in Newport organized the event. With the help of Teen Coordinator Melissa Minto, the women arranged for the instructors and facilities to make the July 17 and 18 seminar possible. Last year, Clarke took the three-week training session headed by Dr. Bernard Lafayette at the University of Rhode Island Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. Lafayette was an original member of the Dr. Martin Luther King movement and is personally responsible for spreading Dr. King's message of nonviolence to all corners of the globe.

Franklin Wanzi, 26, a resident of Finland who was born and raised in Cameroon, West Africa, also attended the teen seminar to observe the introductory class in action. Wanzi recently finished the course for instructors taught by Lafayette. He plans to return to Finland in the next few weeks to teach the course for a year. He will then go to his homeland in Cameroon, a hotbed of political conflict, where he will "teach and apply the Kingian nonviolent philosophy in an area where it is most needed," Wanzi said.

Another participating instructor in the teen classes was Leo Rios, of New York City. Rios has been involved in the Kingian nonviolent movement for several years and was instrumental in initiating a mediation and peace promotion program at Thompson Middle School in Newport that was funded by local grant money.

Samuel Emdin of Nigeria along with Michael Smith and Lowell Reiland taught the adult classes at Central Baptist.

Although the message was the same, the presentation to the adults as well as the exercises were slightly different from the classes offered the teens, who ranged in age from 12 to 18. Both groups studied the six principles of Kingian nonviolence and the six steps toward resolving conflicts.

They learned that conflict exists on three levels, normal, which is dialogue, pervasive, which is monologue, and overt, which is "swingalogue" or physically violent. Both groups also learned how to resolve conflicts on all levels through the Kingian methods of nonviolence.

Teens and adults attending the conference agreed that the course was different from what they expected. "Not that I really expected anything," said one student who did not give his name. "I didn't know what to expect," he continued. "But it was different from anything I've ever studied before. I think everyone should be required to take this course. It would change the way people relate to each other and possibly make wars a thing of the past," he said.

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