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Conference Keynoter/Author Arthur Romano Shares Martin Luther King’s Six Pillars of Nonviolence and Their Application to Today

Dr. Martin Luther King’s six pillars of nonviolence resonate today more than ever and reflect the steady evolution of the civil rights icon as he refined his beliefs, messaging, and strategies to best influence and unite others toward the goals of racial equality and justice, according to Arthur Romano, PhD. Romano, whose book, Racial Justice and Nonviolence Education: Building the Beloved Community, One Block at a Time, delves deeply into King’s pillars, is the March 24 keynoter of the 2023 NASWVA and NASW Metro DC Joint Annual Conference.


Romano explains that King drew heavily from Mahatma Gandhi's thinking, so these pillars are also ideas that had animated Gandhi.


Pillar 1: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. “That's a big portion of my talk at the conference--the focus on courage,” Romano says.


Pillar 2: The beloved community is the framework for the future, … this idea of a multiracial community grounded in a vision for economic justice, where we don't have people who are facing one of the biggest forms of violence, which is poverty. The beloved community is the framework for the future. We need to think about the society we want to build and let those values and that vision inform the work we're doing right now,” he says. “We can ask ourselves with each action that we do, ‘Is this … choice that I'm making now helping to build a piece of the beloved community for the future?’ And that's that principle is really important because it's future-focused.”


Pillar 3: Attack the forces of evil, not the persons doing that evil. Again, it's not just about the players; it's about the game itself. We're checking that if we’re trying to challenge an injustice, we need to look at the system that produces that injustice.


Yes, it may be an individual who's engaging in behavior that's problematic, but they're embedded in systems, so how do we work while trying to address those individual behaviors in ways that challenge those systems producing this inequality?


Pillar 4: Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal. “In short, this is to say that part of nonviolence requires accepting suffering, making sacrifices, making commitments, personal commitments, to the struggle,” Romano says. “But that isn’t to say that nonviolence is masochism. This is why it's a call to accept suffering for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal. This is an attempt [to recognize that]--although we never know exactly what will produce change--certain kinds of suffering have the opportunity to impact change.”


He cites the Montgomery bus boycotts in which African Americans carpooled or walked to work and school for over a year. “That's suffering for a cause, right? The cause to end this kind of legal racial segregation in the United States and to break that power-hold that businesses had in reinforcing this racial segregation,” Romano says.


Pillar 5: Avoid internal violence of the spirit, as well as external physical violence. King is talking about “harmful and destructive emotions like hatred, self-loathing, and a variety of different feelings that come up, especially when you experience violence and persistent injustice,” Romano notes. “Nonviolence is not just about restraining your physical behavior and not hitting someone. It's about developing the psychological mechanisms necessary to acknowledge when potentially destructive emotions arise and to find creative and productive ways to deal with those emotions.


“Dr. King used to say that he saw what hate did to faces as he stared into those of the sheriffs in the South, and he refused to have that same kind of hate do that same kind of work on him,” he continues. “Nonviolence demands that we try to offer that kind of compassion and cultivate those kinds of positive emotions inside ourselves.


“This is not to say that one doesn't feel anger. Anger can be highly productive. But then there are forms of anger that are destructive, that cause physical illness, that keep one in a heightened state that doesn't allow for thinking and seeing more creative and complex opportunities. That internal work is a really important part of nonviolence.”


Pillar 6: The universe is on the side of justice. “King would refer to this as the moral arch of the universe--long but it bends towards justice--this idea that we have a cosmic companion, and that the universe works toward some kind of balance and harmony. This is an issue of faith, really.


“Not all people will agree on or see it similarly,” Romano says, “but it's a component of … King's thinking around nonviolence—that it's important to explore that and to reflect on it, to sometimes zoom out and see yourself as a small part of a long struggle. And that struggle is aligned with the winds at your back, even though it might be hard to see in the short term--that the best parts of ourselves can win out in the end.”


Save money--register before January 31 to hear Dr. Romano’s keynote address on "Courageous Leadership" March 24 at our Joint NASWVA-NASW Metro DC Annual Conference in Williamsburg (March 23-25), live-virtual conference April 20-22, or on-demand-only April 23-June 23.

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