Bringing Martin Luther King’s Message to the Next Generation

The message of Kingian Nonviolence can be traced in an historical line from the civil rights organizers of the Southern freedom movement in the 1950s, through the anti-Vietnam War struggles of the 1960s, on through the anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid movements of the 1980s, all the way to today’s young activists.

by Terry Messman

Over the past year, the Positive Peace Warrior Network (PPWN) has conducted workshops in the strategy, philosophy and values of “Kingian Nonviolence” for more than 1,000 people — high-school students, grandparents, prisoners in local jails, young people of color living in dangerous neighborhoods, and activists involved in many social change movements.

The PPWN defines “Positive Peace” as peace with justice for all. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught that “peace is not only the absence of violence, but the presence of justice.”

PPWN organizers Jonathan Lewis and Kazu Haga were advocates for nonviolent social change at a time of great controversy over tactics in the Occupy movement. PPWN organizers gave workshops in Kingian Nonviolence to a total of about 300 Occupy activists, including people active with Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Seattle, Occupy Providence and Occupy Wall Street.

The Occupy movement has fallen into one of those low ebbs that occur periodically in the history of social-change movements. Yet, the Positive Peace Warrior Network and many other groups are still working to spread the message of nonviolence to the next generation.

The dedication of people like Kazu Haga and Jonathan Lewis gives the lie to one of the most deceptive media myths of our era. This prevalent myth holds that even though countercultural youth rose up in rebellion to war and racism in the 1960s, the fiery spirit that once animated their dissent has long since been extinguished and is now irrelevant.

This myth has clouded our vision and made us believe that young people see the civil rights and peace movements as historical curiosities and little more. Yet the Positive Peace Warrior Network has mobilized groups of fired-up young activists working for peace and justice.

One dedicated organizer still working to build a stronger and more principled movement is Kazu Haga, 32, a Japanese-American activist who was trained in nonviolent resistance by his mentors, Dr. Bernard Lafayette and Jonathan Lewis.

As a key organizer of the Positive Peace Warrior Network, Kazu has conducted workshops in Kingian Nonviolence for several hundred activists, including academics and anarchists, faith leaders and prisoners, senior citizens and high-school students, longtime activists and those who have never attended a demonstration.

The message of Kingian Nonviolence can be traced in an historical line from the civil rights organizers of the Southern freedom movement in the 1950s, through the anti-Vietnam War struggles of the 1960s, on through the anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid movements of the 1980s, all the way to today’s young activists.

Martin Luther King’s vision of the beloved community helped to inspire all of those movements, and Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Kazu Haga and Jonathan Lewis formed the Positive Peace Warrior Network to pass that all-important message on to the next generation.

On the morning of April 4, 1968, a few hours before his assassination, Martin Luther King met with Bernard Lafayette at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis to discuss the Poor People’s Campaign they were planning. At the end of the meeting, King shifted gears and told Lafayette of a vital new mission that he saw as the next step for the movement.

On his last morning on earth, Rev. King said: “Now, Bernard, the next movement we’re going to have is to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence.” That one momentous sentence set the course for Dr. Lafayette’s entire life.

In the decades since King’s murder, Lafayette has conducted nonviolent trainings for thousands of activists all over the world, taught courses in nonviolent conflict resolution in universities and seminaries, and created peace education programs in the academic world.

Kazu Haga is one of the thousands of people who have attended Dr. Lafayette’s nonviolence training. In an interview with Street Spirit, Kazu said, “The way Kingian Nonviolence has been handed down to us is that it’s essentially Dr. Martin Luther King’s final marching orders.”

The PPWN has worked hard to ensure that today’s youth learn about the philosophy and vision of Kingian Nonviolence. In Chicago, the PPWN conducted nonviolence trainings in North Lawndale College Prep High School, resulting in the school reporting a 90 percent reduction in violence since they began working with them.

In Oakland, the PPWN has worked with low-income and at-risk youth, including those who were gang-involved, formerly incarcerated, or homeless. Jonathan and Kazu have worked with a collaborative of youth organizations — including Youth Spirit Artworks, BAY-Peace, and Youth Alive — to introduce Kingian Nonviolence into the ongoing work of those groups.

Sally Hindman, executive director of Youth Spirit Artworks in Berkeley, said that their workshops in nonviolence have been tremendously helpful to the youth in her group who live in dangerous neighborhoods where street violence and police repression are ever-present realities.

“The Positive Peace Warrior Network has been transformative for the lives of our youth,” she said. “It really turned their way of thinking upside down. They were just completely enthralled by the training.”

Kazu Haga (left) holds a nonviolence workshop in the East Bay Meditation Center as Courtney Supple and Rebecca Speert listen. Photo courtesy of PPWN

 

Hindman said that Kazu Haga and Jonathan Lewis spoke to the youth in their own language so they could really relate to them. “Kazu and Jonathan have been around the block,” she said. “They know from their own experience what nonviolence is about, and they know what life on the street is about. They totally get it. So when they talk to our youth, they’re completely coming from the place our youth are coming from. It’s the difference between night and day.”

One of the most powerful insights the youth gained was a fresh way of looking at the vision and commitment of Dr. King.

“ I think our youth were blown away by this fresh analysis and this fresh approach to talking about who Dr. King was,” said Hindman. “I think Martin Luther King gets served up to all of us now in a very sanitized way that even Republicans can use.

“But Jonathan and Kazu are bringing Dr. King back to life. They’re really talking about what King has to say that can change the lives of youth right now, and he is calling them to radical nonviolence to save a whole population of young people.”

As a young man, David Hartsough took part in the lunch counter sit-ins in the early days of the civil rights movement, and he marched with Martin Luther King and Ralph David Abernathy. Later, as a staff organizer for the American Friends Service Committee, Hartsough conducted countless nonviolent trainings himself.

At present, Hartsough is the director of Peaceworkers and the cofounder of Nonviolent Peace Force, and he has already experienced nearly every variation of nonviolence training imaginable.

Yet Hartsough was so inspired by the workshop in Kingian Nonviolence given by Jonathan and Kazu, that he has taken their training twice in the past year.

Hartsough said, “Kazu is a young person of color who has been very active in the Occupy movement’s people of color caucus and the young people’s caucus and the nonviolence caucus. I think he has been doing everything he can to infuse an understanding of nonviolence in the broader movement. Kazu has taken seriously what Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and other nonviolent leaders have said throughout history, that for movements to be powerful — not only morally powerful but also strategically effective — it’s important to operate from a very clear and strong nonviolent perspective.”

“What is really impressive is that Kazu is not just studying King, but putting his life into helping deepen the understanding of Kingian Nonviolence by people in the movement,” Hartsough said. “He is doing all this to follow his conscience and his heart and put nonviolence into practice.

Asked to name the people who have most inspired him, Kazu quickly lists Martin Luther King, Bernard Lafayette, and his mother Maoko, who gave him a belief in compassion and service. Another inspiration is Nichidatsu Fujii, a Japanese Buddhist monk who founded Nipponzan Myohoji, a Buddhist order known for building Peace Pagodas and going on peace pilgrimages all over the world.

When he was 17, Kazu was adrift on the streets until the monks and nuns of Nipponzan Myohoji “took me under their wing.” He traveled with them to India and lived in their monastic order for a year and a half, doing everything from heavy construction work while building Peace Pagaodas, to peace walks in Cambodia, and volunteer work in Sri Lanka.

The experience was formative in the young man’s life. “That’s how I came into all this work in nonviolence,” he said of his involvement with the Buddhist order.

Kazu talks with great enthusiasm about the unfinished work of transforming the world into the “beloved community” that Martin Luther King dreamed of creating.

This is how a legacy is entrusted to a new generation: Martin Luther King gave his very life to spreading the message of nonviolence. Bernard Lafayette picked up the fallen torch of Kingian Nonviolence after King was murdered, and passed on this legacy to Jonathan Lewis and Kazu Haga. Now Jonathan and Kazu are on a mission to offer a vision of the beloved community to the next generation.

 

To read the Street Spirit interview with Kazu Haga, click HERE.

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