On February 12th, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, served notice in state capitals around the country, with press conferences. They stated that if their voices are not heard and if the issues the movement is fighting to end i.e. systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and environmental destruction remain unaddressed, they are prepared to take direct action and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.
At the Springfield, IL press conference, Lori Patton and Sherri Bevel started a conversation, and before you know it Sherri had agreed to come to Peoria to provide training on “Kingian Style Nonviolence.”
To understand why Dr. Sherri Bevel would agree to come to conduct a training on a Saturday night, for a virtual stranger, for no fee, you must understand who she is. Sherri is a “movement baby”, the product of two Civil Rights giants James Bevel and Diane Nash.
Diane Nash was born in Chicago, educated in Catholic schools and at one point considered becoming a nun. She attended Howard University in D.C. for one year, before transferring to Fisk University in Nashville, Tn. Diane said it was in Nashville, that she was exposed to Jim Crow Laws that began her quest to challenge segregation.
She was a student of Professor James Lawson. In India, Lawson studied Gandhi’s technique of nonviolent direct action and passive resistance. During the 1960’s Lawson served as a mentor to the Nashville Student Movement and the Student Coordinating Committee.
At the age of 22, Diane became the leader of the Nashville sit-ins to integrate lunch counters. She was one of 3 Black students, who was allowed to be served at the segregated Post House Restaurant in March of 1960.
Diane and John Lewis led protestors in the policy of refusing to pay bail, when they were arrested for civil disobedience. In 1961, Diane served jail time in solidarity with the “Park Hill nine’, 9 students imprisoned after a lunch counter sit-in.
James Bevel was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi, educated in segregated schools in both Mississippi and Cleveland, Oh. He served a short time in the Navy Reserve. James was a gifted vocalist. He attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, TN before dropping out to work in the Civil Rights Movement. Bevel also attended Professor Lawson’s nonviolence workshops.
In 1961 James and Diane were married. In 1962 Bevel met with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the head of the SCLC. The two agreed to work together to end segregation, obtain voting rights, and to ensure quality education for ALL children in America.
Bevel soon became SCLC’s Director of Direct Action and Nonviolence Training. He initiated, strategized, directed and developed, along with Nash, SCLC’s 3 major movements; the 1963 Birmingham Children Crusade, the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement, and the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement.
On April 7, in the Fellowship Hall of Bethel United Methodist Church, with 25-30 participates, Sherri talked a little about being the daughter of the iconic Civil Rights leaders. She said the one thing she was most grateful for, was that she was born a Bevel and not a King. She felt the country did not appreciate the sacrifices the children of Martin and Coretta King made. Not only did they lose their father as young children, but they’ve had to live their lives in a fish bowl.
Nonviolence isn’t just something Sherri teaches, it is the essence of who she is. Dr. Bevel is 1 of 4 co-founders of the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training in Chicago. She serves as the center’s Curriculum Development Specialist. She is also an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University where she teaches Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies.
Addie Wyatt was a Labor and Civil Rights leader in Chicago, who worked alongside Dr. King in the 1960’s. She and her husband were founding members of Operation Bread Basket.
The training model used at Addie Wyatt Center is built on the 6 Principals and the 6 Steps of Dr. King’s nonviolence philosophy detailed in his book “Strides Toward Freedom.”
Principle 1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
Principle 2: The beloved community is the framework for the future.
Principle 3: Attack forces of evil not persons doing evil.
Principle 4: Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve a goal.
Principle 5: Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
Principle 6: The Universe is on the side of justice.
Step 1: Information Gathering – The way you determine the facts; the option for change and the timing of pressure for raising the issue is a collective process.
Step 2: Education – In the process of developing articulate leaders; who are knowledgeable about the issue.
Step 3: Personal Commitment – Means looking at your internal and external involvement in the nonviolent campaign and preparing yourself for long-term as well as short-term action.
Step 4: Negotiation – Is the art of bringing together your views and those of your opponents to arrive at a just conclusion or clarify the unresolved issues, at which point, the conflict is formalized.
Step 5: Direct Action – Occurs when negotiations have broken down or failed to produce a just response to the contested issues and conditions.
Step 6: Reconciliation – Is the mandatory closing step of a campaign, when the opponents and proponents celebrate the victory and provide joint leadership to implement the change.
The two-hour session was just an overview of the training. The evening organizers are planning to bring the full 2-day training to Peoria in the near future. Many from the group are planning to take part in the Poor People’s Campaign 40 days of sustained moral fusion direct action, which begins the Monday after Mother’s Day.