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Panel looks at King’s 6 Principles

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By LORNA CHEROT LITTLEWAY

HUDSON–Columbia County observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day with two events held at Hudson venues, Shiloh Baptist Church and the Lifeforms Arts Center, January 14 and 15. Fittingly the theme was “Shifting the Cultural Climate Through the Study and Practice of Kingian Nonviolence.”

Monday’s event featured a panel discussion of Dr. King’s 6 Principles of Nonviolence. In preliminary remarks, Pastor Kim Singletary, an organizer of the MLK Jr. Observance, identified the goal as “to pass on King’s principles.” Pastor Singletary referred to Dr. King’s letter, “Kick Up Dust,” to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 1946. Dr. King, then 17 years old, responded to an article reporting the shooting deaths of five “Negroes” by whites after one of the victims voted in a Taylor County, GA election.

Dr. King wrote, “We want and are entitled to the basic rights and opportunities of American citizens: The right to earn a living at work for which we are fitted by training and ability; equal opportunities in education, health, recreation, and similar public services; the right to vote; equality before the law; some of the same courtesy and good manners that we ourselves bring to all human relations.”

Pastor Singletary noted, “[We] still seek equality under the law” and warned, “We do not want to devolve to the situation in Palestine.”

Panel moderator Lisa Edstrom, a professor of education at Barnard College, summarized the 6 Principles: 1) nonviolence is not a method for cowards, 2) seek to win the understanding of the opponent, 3) oppose the forces of harm not the people who cause harm, 4) accept suffering without retaliation, 5) avoid internal negativity, 6) the universe is on the side of justice. (The full text of the 6 Principles is in Chapter 6 of Dr. King’s memoir of the 1955-56 Montgomery, AL bus boycott, “Strive Toward Freedom.”)

Professor Edstrom introduced the three panelists and asked each to speak to the relevance of Dr. King’s 6 Principles today.

Hudson born Kimberly Erwin, who hosts the radio program “Race Talks” on WGYZ in Albany, stated, “We must love ourselves.” And posed the question, “How to converse with people who enrage you?” She encouraged, “Identify how people different from you are like you.”

Eric Thompson, youth outreach director for 518 SNUG (Guns spelled backwards) in Albany, embraced the idea of “attack the problem not the person.” Mr. Thompson, who said that he deals with gun-related murders every day, asked, “How often do we listen to kids?” He added that the purpose of education is to “draw out [potential] not beat in [information].”

Rabbi Zoe Zak of Temple Israel in Catskill identified “love is the guiding force.” She added there is divisiveness in all communities. “Listen to how you speak to yourself about yourself. [It’s] easy to say unkind things.”

An audience member asked the panel which particular principle they carried daily. Prof. Erwin responded, “Look at life as a positive.”

Mr. Thompson replied, “nonviolence is for the brave.” He offered an analogy: the human body always repairs itself. But there are viruses and infections. Poverty is an infection. Greed is an infection.He added, “I hear the problem is too big [but] death and destruction of [our] young is too big.” Mr. Thompson noted that the prime ages for gang initiation is 11-13 years old.

Rabbi Zak identified “Love is the greatest healer. Love allows us to forgive the unforgivable.”

A young audience member asked why was Dr. King’s nonviolence strategy effective? Mr. Thompson responded, “For the most part people want to live.” He touted the value of negotiation saying that in his work he deals with Uptown vs. Downtown. “In a community of 100,000 people, you are going to see the ‘Other.’” He added that there are “more guns than people in America.”

Another audience member asked, “What can we do now?” Prof. Erwin advocated, “Come together, stay together.” Rabbi Zak counseled that Dr. King’s principles and teachings “outlive his death.” Mr. Thompson repeated a popular King refrain, “If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. Continue moving forward.”

Moderator Edstrom allowed how nonviolence advocates must have “deep faith in the future,” which Dr. King possessed.

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