Program to focus on King's beliefs

Sojourner-Douglass institute to teach about nonviolence

January 14, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

With the statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. firmly in place at Anne Arundel Community College, the committee that pushed for the memorial is turning to another effort, an education program based on King's philosophy of nonviolence.

Officials at Sojourner-Douglass College recently agreed to house the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Institute on Non-Violent Studies and hired an assistant to research how to make it happen.

"We are excited to do it. It fits right into our mission," said Charlestine Fairley, site director for the Edgewater campus. "In this time there is certainly a need for an institute that would teach our young people how to solve problems without indulging in violence."

Carl O. Snowden, the newly appointed director for civil rights in the office of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, said King's credo of peace continues to be relevant and could be useful in the primary and secondary school system.

"One wonders what Dr. King would do if he were here today. He would probably admonish us that it will be nonviolence or nonexistence. King didn't see nonviolence as a tactic, he saw it as a way of life," said Snowden, a longtime activist who coordinates annual King day celebrations in the county. "Here's an opportunity for us to be in the forefront to preserve his legacy by institutionalizing that legacy."

No date has been set for the center's opening, but Snowden said he thinks it will be within five years.

The committee, which will meet this month, is soliciting input from people with suggestions about how the center should operate and what its curriculum should focus on.

Coursework and symposiums would draw on King's legacy and the teachings of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Fannie Lou Hamer and others in trying to create leaders, Snowden said.

Marion Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, and Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, who is speaker of the House of Delegates, have written letters of support.

The institute might eventually offer a four-year degree in nonviolent studies, Fairley said.

Sojourner Douglass is an adult evening private college with predominantly black students, who are usually mid-career. It offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, mostly in the social sciences.

Salisbury University offers a degree in conflict analysis and dispute resolution, and Goucher College offers a major and minor in peace studies.

Eugene Peterson, vice president of the Anne Arundel County school board, said the center could help nurture young leaders and become a part of the school system's efforts to reduce violence in the hallways. Several brawls erupted at Annapolis High School last fall.

The idea for the institute came from Sandra Ferguson, the director of social justice ministries for the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.

She first approached officials at Anne Arundel Community College as a possible site for the institute, but the school, which donated the land for the statue, declined.

The committee raised $250,000 in private donations for the memorial and secured a loan for $150,000 with the backing of 15 people.

Colorado sculptor Ed Dwight crafted the 9-foot-6-inch statue, which shows King with a book in one hand and reaching out with the other.

That image of King extending a hand in fellowship resonates with Michael Keller, coordinator of Anne Arundel Peace Action, a grassroots group dedicated to peace and disarmament.

Keller noted King's April 4, 1967, speech, in which at the Riverside Church in New York City he broke with many supporters and called for an immediate end to the Vietnam War.

"It was a courageous speech that he was urged not to make, and it's an aspect of his life that has been largely ignored in most of the major celebrations," Keller said. "He was an advocate for a reduction in the military budget and warned against a nuclear arms race. To have a center that focuses on nonviolence and peace is absolutely an imperative."

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