Eight heroes of nonviolence (you never heard of)
IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT
Investigative journalists are an important part of our newshungry society. But before there was a Woodward, a Bernstein or a Christiane Amanpour, there was Ida B. Wells-Barnett. She was a black woman born in Mississippi in 1862. She became a teacher at 14, but lost her position when she took up journalism and the cause of civil rights in her editorials. And then she turned her pen to the horrors of lynching. Much like a war correspondent, Wells-Barnett lived through the atrocities she investigated: three of her friends were lynched for running a grocery store that was competing with white-owned businesses. After her Memphis newspaper office was ransacked due to her civil rights advocacy, Wells-Barnett moved to New York and then Chicago, and continued writing pamphlets and articles exposing the truth about lynching.
The brutal Salvadorian Civil War in the 1970s and 1980s drove thousands of families to seek refuge in the Pico Union section of Los Angeles. In L.A. these traumatized youth — hardened by poverty, grief, and their status as outsiders in American society — eventually formed violent street gangs. Gang activity often led to arrest and deportation back to El Salvador, where gang members reconnected and continued their turf wars. Alex Sanchez was one of those deported gang members. But when he learned that his girlfriend was pregnant he came back to the U.S. illegally, determined to shake his old life. He found help from Homies Unidos, a nonprofit gang violence prevention and intervention organization. With Sanchez’ help, Homies Unidos became the first transnational gang prevention initiative, addressing the root causes of gangs in the U.S. and El Salvador. Today, as program director for Homies Unidos, Sanchez helps L.A. youth find productive outlets for their energies and emotions.
Javier Stauring believes in restorative justice — and he has risked his career to build a better juvenile justice system. Stauring, a Catholic lay chaplain and co-director of the Office of Restorative Justice for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, has worked with inmates, victims, and their communities since 1996. In 2001, he began counseling juveniles held in an adult jail and found the youths living in intolerable conditions: confined to their cells for more than 23 hours a day and denied schooling and vocational programs. He spoke out against these conditions and subsequently lost clearance to visit the jail. His clearance was reinstated after a lawsuit, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors ruled that the jail was unfit for juvenile inmates. Mr. Stauring continues to work toward transformation of the juvenile justice system.
ABDUL GHAFFAR KHAN
Known as the “Frontier Gandhi,” Abdul Ghaffar Khan built an army dedicated to nonviolent resistance and self-improvement. A devout Muslim from the North-West Frontier Province of British India (now Pakistan), Khan was frustrated by years of oppression by the British and the violence endemic to his Pathan society. The lives of Pathans, he felt, could be improved only through a combination of self-improvement and nonviolent resistance to British rule. Beginning in the 1930s, Khan formed the Khudai Khidmatgar — the Servants of God — a 100,000-member nonviolent army. During their 17-year existence, this unusual army built schools, helped maintain order, and generally sought to improve the lives of Pathans. They were arrested, poisoned, attacked, and sometimes killed by British soldiers, but never turned to violence.
ELLEN FRANCIS POISSON
“Citizen-to-citizen diplomacy,” the Rev. Dr. Ellen Francis Poisson, OSH, writes, “is based on the conviction that direct dialogue can challenge stereotypes and change the attitudes of people, on both sides.” As co-leader of interfaith peace and reconciliation delegations to Iran and Afghanistan, Poisson — who is an Episcopal priest, a member of the Order of St. Helena, and an iconographer — builds understanding and respect one relationship at a time. Poisson’s leadership gives ordinary citizens of the U.S. and Middle East the chance to say with conviction, “We’ve met people from there who want peace with us.”
In 1990, the Rev. Michael Lapsley, an anti-apartheid activist and Anglican priest, lost both hands, one eye, and suffered shattered eardrums in a letter-bomb attack. The perpetrator was never caught. Despite his life-changing injuries, Lapsley returned to South Africa and worked at the Trauma Center for Victims of Violence and Torture, which assisted the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He later developed the Institute for the Healing of Memories, which offers worldwide workshops and resources for helping people forgive and heal from emotional and psychological trauma.
VERÓNICA CRUZ SÁNCHEZ
Verónica Cruz Sánchez empowers the people of her community to resist and change a culture of violence against women. In Guanajuato, Mexico — her home — battered, abused, or raped women are routinely denied their legal rights. Three hundred women in Guanajuato have been killed by their husbands or family members in the last five years. Cruz Sánchez, executive director and a founding member of Centro Las Libres de Información en Salud Sexual, is determined to fight that violence. Las Libres (The Free Women) helps victims of domestic violence when the government will not, providing psychological counseling, legal help, and support.
More than one million people live in crowded refugee camps inside the war zone of Darfur, Sudan. Suleiman Jamous, humanitarian coordinator for Darfur’s rebel groups and a widely respected “elder statesmen” is committed to caring for these displaced, endangered people. He co-authored The Black Book — a documented exposé of the ethnic favoritism and corruption of the Sudanese government — in 2000 and was detained by the Sudanese government for three years. He fled to Darfur, where he began communicating with rebel groups and aid organizations, helping to ensure that humanitarian aid reached those in need in rebel-held regions. Jamous has also been an essential consensus-building voice in the ongoing peace process. He was confined to a United Nations hospital for over a year with intestinal problems, but the Sudanese government recently allowed him to seek advanced medical care in Chad. Jamous hopes to recover and return to his work in Darfur.
This article appears in the "Religion and Violence" issue of Trinity News. The issue serves as a companion piece to Trinity Institute's 38th national conference, an interfaith examination of religion and violence.