Teaching Dr. King as an Antidote to Violence
by Dr. Shawn Joseph and Dr. Matthew Daniels
Both at home and abroad, we are witnessing a rising tide of violence. Those who may think these trends are disconnected must confront events such as the recent tragedy in Buffalo — a senseless act of hateful violence committed by a violent extremist.
In killing 10 people, the American gunman consciously copied far-right extremist who murdered 49 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In copycat fashion, the Buffalo shooter also authored a venomous manifesto and livestreamed his crime in the hope of inspiring others to follow in his footsteps.
Seemingly purposeless murders are terrible enough. But those who single out people of a particular faith, race or ethnicity pose a unique threat to our increasingly diverse and divided country. In these times of tragedy, we must be reminded that our common humanity unites us, and we must strengthen our resolve to teach people about the power of love and nonviolence.
All too often, we look for a quick fix to identify and stop violent extremists. In any system, it is difficult to prevent the spread of hateful and violent ideologies. Censorship of ideas, no matter how malign, is tremendously difficult.
Strategies that focus on playing defense against the forces of racism and violence are not enough. We need to go on the offensive and challenge those who preach hatred and violence. We must offer a positive, inspiring alternative to their divisive and destructive views.
The best antidote is the philosophy advanced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He emphasized our shared humanity and insisted on respect for the dignity, equality and liberty of all. His message transcended our differences.
Dr. King eloquently appealed to our better natures. Although he was not a perfect man, flawed and human, he lived his principles of respect for humanity and love for mankind, which gave his words special power. He was an activist and organizer. He did not leave the hard work of doing good and what was just to others but acted to change the world. He insisted on nonviolence even when he received hurt in return. Ultimately, he died as he had lived, pushing America to honor its oft-proclaimed values.
Today’s young people desperately need to hear this message. The MLK Educational Initiative was launched to teach young people how to advance Dr. King’s unifying, nonviolent principles in the Digital Age. That is important, but not sufficient. We also are determined to see others replicate his life of service and leadership. We believe that children who are loved and learn to give love can change the world for the better.
It is not enough for the young to recognize injustice. They must commit to improve their lives and community. That requires all of us to teach social and civic responsibility and train our youth to act accordingly.
To that end, we are collaborating with the Andrew Young Foundation to launch a scholarship program for students determined to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps who wish to attend a historically black college or university. We hope to teach the coming generation how to take up the great challenges of our age and advance his enduring moral principles. These scholarships will go to students who, like Dr. King, dream of being ambassadors of nonviolence and making not just the nation, but the world a better place.
We are remorseful and hurt over the pain that has been caused in Buffalo. We know that the lives that were lost were valuable and the pain does not immediately go away. Beyond the horrific tragedy that occurred in Buffalo, we face enormous challenges as it relates to hate and violence throughout the U.S. and abroad. And there is no panacea. The forces of darkness are active and powerful, determined to harm our people, divide our society and destroy our democratic society.
We cannot allow them to win. We must overcome with truth and a commitment to the dignity and equality of all people. In this struggle, Dr. King’s teachings can act as a powerful educational vaccine for the young. They can help to raise up a new generation whose lives and example of service can unite us and lead us out of darkness, as Dr. King attempted to do a generation ago.
Joseph is the director of the Urban Superintendents Academy at Howard University. Daniels is the founder of Good of All. Learn more about the Andrew Young HBCU Scholarship program at www.mlkcurriculum.org/scholarship.