Violence Is Not The Answer

It did not take long for Nyle Fort to feel the energy on Bucknell University’s campus during Martin Luther King Jr. Week. The events that encompassed the “Violence of Hate” series, presented by the President’s Diversity Council, included lectures from Fort and eight others, all connecting their stories to Dr. King’s message. Nyle notes that in walking onto campus he was pleased to see that university had created a space, for students and faculty alike, to begin to talk about topics was a country too often sweep under the rug.

Fort spoke to his audience about Dr. King’s message in a way that related it to the world today. In the world we live in we have made great strides in the war against violence, but we are far from the end of the battle. Originally set to have conversations with students in the form of a monolog, Fort opened his timeslot to Reverend James Lawson and the two shared in a conversation on the importance of nonviolent resistance. Reverend Lawson worked with Dr. King and his talk allowed students to hear firsthand what it was like to grow up during that time period. Throughout the conversation, Nyle spoke about the Black Lives Matter Movement currently in action, while Lawson commented on the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the creative ways in which problems could be solved. Meshing together the two different generations allowed for the direct connection between Dr. King’s message and how it applies to the world today. Fort photo

Both Fort and Lawson share a similar passion and focused on educating the audience on how far the power of love and solidarity can go. Jahi Omari, Bucknell Class of 2017, was quoted in the school newspaper saying, “I believe that if people are provided with examples of nonviolence actually working, then [they] will be more convinced that people can live peacefully.” In each of their stories, they both discuss the importance of spreading King’s message and living a legacy he would be proud of.

Regardless of their beliefs on the subject matter, attendees were invested in the event and had meaningful conversations with both speakers following the event. According to Fort, “We live in a very exciting and very devastating time. We can look at a host of issues – mass incarceration, police brutality, economic inequality, climate change and so on – to see that we still have a lot of work to do. With the way society is organized today, and the events that are occurring in regards to hatred and violence, the role of Universities is to challenge us to think more deeply and act more courageously in the fight for a world free from violence and oppression.” 

Nyle believes that all universities have an obligation to challenge students to address the most important moral issues of our day. In reflecting after the event, he talked about the importance to provide a space, like Bucknell did, to have difficult conversations. Honest and critical dialogue is a first step towards inventing a future where all lives matter.

Difficult Topics Make the Best Conversations

When Haider Hamza speaks to college students across the country he keeps track of questions asked during his lecture. He does this to get a sense of not only how many questions were asked by that audience, but to also build off them and potentially develop his next talk in a way that will touch upon those topics of discussion. He has even built in pauses during his lecture for audience members to ask him questions. At any given event Hamza says that there are around 10 questions asked throughout those stopping points. Bucknell University was not just another school Haiderand this was not a typical talk for him. This event was focused on relating his message back to that of Martin Luther King Jr. and he says that he received around 36 questions that night. “I stopped every four minutes or so to ask the audience if they had any questions and to get a read on how they were responding to what I had to say,” Hamza said afterward.

In keeping with the theme of the week, Haider spoke to his audience about universal human rights. He talked about how regardless of who you are or where you are from, everyone has basic human rights. He was able to zoom out from his lens, zoom out from the message of Dr. King, and connect the two on a broad scale to create what turned out to be “the most original, riveting, and sincere [talk],” according to Carmen Gillespie, Director of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies at Bucknell. Reflecting after the event he commented that in broadening the two topics to a location where they connect, he was able to get more buy-in from the audience, and in return more people were receptive to what he had to say. Katie Carroll, Bucknell Class of 2019, was quoted in the school newspaper saying that although the message of Dr. King is taught in the classroom, “we have to realize that knowing the message of MLK is different from applying it,” and noted that Hamza encouraged the audience to recognize that difference as he “opened [her] eyes to the true meaning and application of Dr. Martin Luther King’s message [in today’s world].

The conversations on this topic and with Haider did not stop after his talk was over. Not only did students stay late speaking with him that night, but more than a week after the event he was still receiving dozens of emails from students. The event provided a safe space to have the difficult conversations about conflict, discrimination, and slavery among other topics that are not normally talked about in daily life. Students, faculty, as well as community members, took advantage of this platform to have these conversations. Hamza notes that although we do not feel comfortable having these conversations, we are doing more harm than good in not talking. Audience members were able to connect what he was talking about to their own personal experiences, and developed a connection with Hamza in numerous ways as he created “a once-in-a-lifetime understanding and reimaging of experience,” according to Gillespie. His talk was the first in the Violence of Hate series put together by the Bucknell President’s Diversity Council, and provided students with a safe space in which they were able to connect with one another on a level that many of them had never tried to get to prior to listening to his story.

Violence of Hate

“Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Bucknell University, a private liberal arts college located in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, took Martin Luther King Jr. Week to a whole new level in 2016. The university welcomed the likes of Haider Hamza, Mark Barden, Ian Hockley, Jeremy Richman, David Wheeler, Jack Levin, Nyle Fort, Jim Lawson, and Jennifer Pozner to bring King’s message to the students. These nine individuals have their own unique stories and experiences; however, their lives, and the decisions they have made, all connect back to King’s message of violence being immoral. The week, entitled “Violence of Hate,” embodied the overall message of Dr. King while highlighting nine individual stories.

These events came to fruition after the university noticed a need for conversation as a way to respond to different violent attacks happening on campuses across the country. For the first time, the university did not hold classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In honor of Dr. King and the message he preached, the President’s Diversity Council gave the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day a deeper meaning than just another day off for students. Director of the Griot Institute of Africana Studies at Bucknell, Carmen Gillespie, said that with the recent events at other universities, Bucknell wanted to use this opportunity to make Dr. King’s legacy known to students, and bring external recognition throughout the whole week.

BucknellThe week accessed the myths and strategies needed to change the world in relation to the legacy that Dr. King left and the struggles of the world today. With powerful speakers who worked hand in hand with each other, it was evident that no matter what angle you approach from, Dr. King had a message that applies to everyone. In today’s world “the word ‘love’ is often dismissed as affection, but not particularly serious since it cannot be measured. These speakers talked about empathy and compassion, in that context, ‘to love’ is one of the most powerful things we can do,” recounted Gillespie after the week had concluded.

In hosting these events, Bucknell instigated a conversation about the revolution of Dr. King’s message and how it continues to be relevant. Throughout each event students were challenged to look through a different lens. The first talk, given by Iraqi native Haider Hamza, allowed students such as Yash Mittal, Bucknell Class of 2019, to see a different perspective on the war in Iraq. Haider grew up wondering why a country thought it was okay to bring turmoil to his homeland, and ventured to the United States looking for those answers. A lot of times we are told one side of a story, and having a platform to hear from someone who experienced it from the other side was “eye-opening” according to Mittal.

Every event had a full audience, and due to the extreme success of this years’ series, Bucknell is looking forward to doing it again next year. “One of the areas where Bucknell struggles is with a part of its identity to be more inclusive. This [week of events] was a way to start that conversation of diversity,” according to Gillespie.