Peace Fellows Trained in Kingian Nonviolence

On Monday, July 8, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago hosted a Kingian Nonviolence workshop for the Chicago Peace Fellows and grantees of the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities. The Institute for Nonviolence is a street outreach organization that specializes in connecting with individuals who are most at risk of being a victim or perpetrator of violence. They also provide support for families of victims of violence and help people returning from prison find resources such as jobs, housing or health related services. The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities provide small grants of up to $10,000 to grassroots community leaders who are hosting activities in neighborhoods on the West and South sides that have high rates of violence. All of the Chicago Peace Fellows were recipients of these grants in 2018. 


The Institute for Nonviolence Chicago invited the Chicago Peace Fellows and grantees of the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities for training led by Benny Lee on the steps and principles of nonviolence as taught by Martin Luther King Jr to his organizers in communities across the nation. Benny is a former leader of the Vice Lords, a notorious gang on the West Side, who spent decades in prison. Benny talked openly about his stint on death row after he and several others were charged with inciting a prison riot in the ‘70s. He shared about how nonviolence principles changed his life and helped him learn how to solve conflict and fight for justice in a different way.



Through the training, Benny shared his vision for building the Beloved Community, an all-inclusive society built around universal acceptance, healing from trauma, and celebration of successes. He encouraged the participants of the workshop to join him and each other in building the Beloved Community. 

The Chicago Peace Fellows and other grantees asked questions and participated in conversation with Benny and each other. One Chicago Peace Fellow, Adi Lerner, who works at the Westside Justice Center as a program director, asked,

[quote]“How do we truly embrace nonviolence in violent circumstances?” -- Adi Lerner, Chicago Peace Fellow[/quote]

Adi stressed that often she finds many of the people she works with are victims of overt violence but also violent systems such as forced poverty, mass incarceration and systemic oppression. Benny shared his experience in fighting against these forces for returning citizens, people coming home from prison, and how he has made breakthroughs in returning their rights such as getting licenses that they were previously prohibited from getting by the state of Illinois. He said the principles are his grounding metrics for how he takes action to fight for peace.


The Nonviolence Principles are as follows: 

  • Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  • Building the Beloved Community is the goal.
  • Attack the forces of evil, not persons doing evil.
  • Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the Just Cause.
  • Avoid inner-violence of the spirit as well as outwardly physical violence.
  • The universe is on the side of justice. 

Overall, the group really enjoyed the experience and connected with one another around the material. The Institute for Nonviolence hosts 3 day nonviolence workshops that are open to the public. Please visit their website to learn more about the organization, their upcoming events and trainings.

Illuminating Perspectives: Art and Social Justice

When artist and educator Cecil McDonald Jr. began working with children in the Chicago Public Schools some years ago, he heard something that disturbed him. The children were enjoying themselves in the playground and appeared to be carefree, but when Cecil interviewed them, he heard them “repeating the grand narratives of violence and pain,” a narrative that was created by adults and taught to them through the media they consumed.

Cecil McDonald, Jr. offers a guided tour to the Chicago Peace Fellows, including Dawn Hodges (left), Alex Levesque, Robin Cline, Adi Lerner, Ethan Michaeli (staff), Maria Velazquez and Jeanette Coleman.

He resolved to do something about it by creating images that find dignity and beauty in the everyday activities of African American families, and by empowering the youths to document their own lives through photography.

“I made that my charge,” McDonald said. “You ask them: ‘What image do you see? How do you see those images?’ And then you give them the camera so they can go out and tell their own stories.”

Jane Saks of Project& (left), Cecil McDonald, Jr. and Chicago Peace Fellows Coordinator Burrell Poe discuss the role of the arts in social change movements.

McDonald recently hosted the Chicago Peace Fellows at his exhibit of photographs entitled “In the Company of Black” at the Chicago Cultural Center. Containing large, posed images of African American subjects performing quotidian activities inside their homes – reading, sleeping, playing, getting ready for the day – the exhibit was created by McDonald over seven years to represent what he described as the “extraordinarily ordinary.”

[quote]“Artists are in the business of creating truth, creating magic. I depend on my ability to create to make the everyday seem extreme.” -- Cecil McDonald, Jr.[/quote]

For McDonald as for the other artists, the work had a common purpose with teachers, organizers and others working to empower communities. While artists are usually “the last ones brought in,” McDonald said artists focus people’s energy, reconstitute their self-image, and define their purpose.

Chicago Peace Fellow Robert Biekman (left) listens to Chicago artist Tonika Johnson explain how her Folded Map project brings different parts of the city together with fellow panelist Jane Saks.

McDonald was one of several artists who spoke to the Peace Fellows in an April 2nd workshop hosted by the Chicago Cultural Center entitled "Illuminating Perspectives: The Role of the Arts in Social Change." Tonika Lewis Johnson presented her Folded Map Project while artistic director Jane Saks talked about the intersections between art and social justice and the work of Project&, and Rahmaan Statik Barnes discussed his work as a street artist and muralist.

Tonika’s Folded Map Project utilizes Chicago’s long north-south streets to make visual connections between residents who live at corresponding addresses on the North and South sides of the city. She began the project as a photographic study but it proved very popular with the residents themselves, who enjoyed meeting their ‘opposite,’ and quickly gained widespread attention from mainstream media outlets so that Tonika added video and a new web site. The Folded Map Project is an investigation of urban segregation and its impacts on the people’s everyday lives.

Chicago Peace Fellows Velvian Boswell (left), Maria Velazquez, Robert Biekman, and Dawn Hodges review the photography exhibit In the Company of Black by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

The founding president of the Chicago-based Project&, Jane Saks has participated and led many different kinds of collaborations between artists and activists such as “Working in America,” a traveling exhibition and web archive inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winner Studs Terkel’s 1974 book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” a gathering of photos and stories of working folk in 17 states.

Jane enthusiastically cited her experiences to aver that artistic collaborations are uniquely situated to function as an ‘ecology’ where issues of equality and equity can be defined and discussed.

[quote]“In an ecology, things are not equal. They’re equitable. We’re not born with equality, but we can work for equity.” -- Jane Saks[/quote]

Turning to the Peace Fellows, Jane pointed out the similarities between their work as grassroots organizers and artists.

“As community activists, as social justice leaders, what you’re working to do is what people in the arts do,” Jane said. “Social justice workers and artists are both envisioning a future and creating things into existence.”

The Peace Fellows also heard from Rahmaan Statik, a public artist, designer, fine artist, illustrator and art teacher, who described the inspirations he received growing up on the South Side surrounded by urban art and public murals. A co-founder of a graphic arts and mural collective called R.K Design, Statik has produced over 400 murals and earned commissions for Coca Cola, Toyota, the village of Rosemont, and Red Bull, among other corporate clients.