Beliefnet interviews the son of the famed civil rights leader on the importance of peace education. By: Jennifer E. Jones
What does participating in the Newark Peace Education Summit mean to you?
The Newark Peace Education Summit on the Power of Nonviolence provides a unique opportunity for conference participants to share and learn from some of the finest peace educators in the world. H.G. Wells once said that “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,” and I think this is especially true for peace education in particular. At this critical juncture, we must mine the accumulated wisdom and insights of top peace educators, so that we can better prepare people of all races, religions and nations to live together in peace. If we want the 21st century to herald a new era of peace for all humanity, then this Summit provides an excellent beginning. Bringing together some of the best thinkers regarding peace education and distilling their ideas for mass education is an excellent way to begin.
Violence is so prevalent in our urban cities. What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to peace and how do we overcome it?
In a word, “Jobs.” In my view, nothing would do more to reduce violence in American cities than genuine full employment – a job at a decent wage for every person who wants to work. Numerous studies have shown that violence increases with unemployment. People who see no hope for earning a decent living too often turn to crime or drug abuse, which creates a chain reaction of hopelessness, despair and frustration – in other words the perfect environment for violence to increase.The best way to overcome joblessness is to create a social contract between the public and private sectors to provide decent jobs for the unemployed. The decaying infrastructure of our cities is in urgent need of repair and restoration. We can put millions of people to work rebuilding our transportation systems, our subways, bridges and highways, our ports, our parks and recreational facilities. Jobs for all who want to work is the essential prerequisite for creating a nonviolent society. Peace education is important. But you can’t have real peace when unemployment rates are in double digits in America’s cities.
How do you feel this current generation views Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy? Do you find that they connect with his stance on unity and peace?
It’s clear to me that millions of young people understand and value my father’s legacy of social change through nonviolence. I’m not saying that there are not many who have not yet gotten his message. We still have an enormous job to do in educating people about my father’s philosophy and methods of nonviolence. But I do believe that every year, more and more young people are becoming aware of the power of nonviolence through their study of my father’s life and leadership. This is what we are about at The King Center – educating young people across America and around the world in leveraging the power of nonviolence as a force for lasting peace with justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr’s great cause was racial civil rights. Do you feel like that dream has been realized or do we still have a ways to go?
My father’s leadership was about more than civil rights. He was deeply concerned with human rights and world peace, and he said so on numerous occasions. He was a civil rights leader, true. But he was increasingly focused on human rights and a global concern and peace as an imperative. He understood that war drains valuable resources and makes it impossible for a nation to create economic opportunity for all citizens.His dream has not yet been realized. The election of an African American president was a very significant step forward toward fulfilling the dream. But African Americans are still less than 3 percent of all elected officials in the U.S., even though we are over 13 percent of the population of the U.S. People of color are still underrepresented in the executive suites as well. We have made progress in terms of racial justice in many areas. But we have a long way to go before we can truthfully say that the dream of equal opportunity for all has been achieved.
For those attending the Peace Education Summit, what do you want them to walk away with?
I want them to walk away with hope and greater understanding – hope for a more peaceful world, and a greater understanding of the urgent need for more peace education. I would hope that they also obtain a deeper understanding of the philosophy, strategy, principles and methods of nonviolence as taught by Martin Luther King, Jr. and a sense that these teachings can be applied in the struggles we face today. In a way it comes down to a greater faith in the power of nonviolence and how it can help us to create more peace in our homes, communities, nations and world. If all of the conference participants walk away with a stronger faith in the power of nonviolence, then we will have accomplished something very worthwhile.
About the conference:
The Newark Peace Education Summit is a three-day conference focusing on peacemaking practices from around the world. The conference is structured as a comprehensive, exploration of the many aspects of peacemaking, beginning with the practices of finding peace within the self, then subsequently radiating outward to peace within the home, peace through education, peace in the community, the world and the planet. Each day the activity will consist of a combination of large-scale panel discussions, which will then break into practical workshops for further exploration of the various topics discussed.
Nobel Peace Laureates, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will be involved in the first two days of the summit, Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights advocate, and Jody Williams, the American anti-landmine activist, will be among the many peace leaders speaking at the panel sessions. Other panelists and workshop leaders include: Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Martin Luther King III, Robert Thurman, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Goldie Hawn, Soledad O’Brien, Ed Norton, Donna Karan, Van Jones, Jeffrey Sachs, Majora Carter, the Kogui Shaman of Columbia, South America, Somaly Mam, Cameron Sinclair, Russell Simmons and may more distinguished peace advocates from a wide cross section of cultures, disciplines and perspectives.
The summit hopes to begin a dialogue that continues long after the participants physically disperse, by providing new media tools for continued interaction and conversation between participants and attendees. The event will be held at the NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) in Newark, New Jersey, May 13-15, 2011 and is being co-convened by Tibet House US and the Drew A. Katz Foundation. In addition to these events there will be group yoga practices, meditations, a wellness fair and many other activities. For more information, visit Newarkpeace.org. Tickets are still available for all 3 days of the Newark Peace Education Summit. Visit NJPAC.com or call the box office at 1-888-GO-NJPAC.