Crammed into a small conference room at the Westin Hotel in Waltham Thursday, a group of teachers took part in the first of its kind professional training where students joined other teachers and police officers to demonstrate the principles of Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violence approach to conflict resolution.
The Kingian Nonviolence Training was one of the sessions teachers and staff of the Watertown Public Schools could select as part of their professional training during the first two days back at work this year.
The first of three trainings on Thursday was attended by teachers from all levels, special education and English Language Learner (formerly ESL) teachers, a dean of students and a reading specialist. Many said they hoped to find ways to resolve conflicts in their classes, both between students and with themselves and students.
When conflict arises sometimes people have to resist their first reaction, said Harold Physic, a Watertown Police officer who helped lead the professional training.
“It’s easy to meet violence with violence. It is not so easy to meet violence with nonviolence,” Physic said.
People in some communities believe they don’t need to learn the Kingian Nonviolence philosophy because they don’t have killings and violent crimes, said Jonathan “Globe” Lewis, who has trained groups around the country for 16 years. He said all communities can use it.
“It is not just physical but the internal,” Lewis said. “Dr. King said violence is the language of the inarticulate. This gives them tools to deal with it.”
The group, led by the teachers, students and police officers, went through the six principles of Kingian Nonviolence.
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
- The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.
- Attack forces of evil not persons doing evil.
- Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve a goal.
- Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
- The Universe is on the side of justice.
They also learned the types of conflict – Pathway, Mutually Exclusive, Distributive and Value Conflict – and the three levels of conflict – Normal, Pervasive and Overt.
Learning from the Expert
The trainers learned these things and much more during an intense, two-week course which concluded the day before the professional training with a celebration at Watertown High School.
Having the opportunity to work with a legend in the nonviolence movement was a pleasure for Watertown Police Lt. Dan Unsworth, who was one of three officers who went through the training.
“Dr. Lafayette is more of a hero than Larry Bird or Tom Brady,” Unsworth said. “He was arrested 30 times, he was kidnapped and survived an assassination attempt.”
They learned from experts in the Kingian movement, including a man who worked closely with MLK during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Dr. Bernard Lafayette traveled from his home in Alabama to be part of the training in Watertown, and said people seemed very receptive.
This is not Lafayette’s first trip to town. He came to speak at Watertown Middle School in the spring, and also spoke with the Watertown Police. He said the town has been warm and hospitable.
While he has worked with different groups around the country and across the globe, he has not done something quite like the training in Watertown.
“What we are doing now, starting with the school system and law enforcement is coming right down from the top (Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald),” Lafayette said. “It is going to be a model to be replicated. They are starting on the ground floor. (School) is the place where people learn values.”
The unique thing about the Watertown training was that it also included students, who learned side-by-side with teachers. For Michael Teeven, a WHS junior, this was something very new. He was one of 25 students to go through the training along with 18 teachers.
“It was one of the coolest experiences,” Teeven said. “During my 14 years going to school, teachers have always been on a different level – on top. But, this gives us the opportunity to see teachers as people – peers working together.
“I was able to make connections with teachers I had never been able to make before.”
Teevens and other students who went through the training plan to start a club at the high school to continue to effort. He also has been invited to help teach in U.S. History classes when they study the Civil Rights Movement.
Thursday’s professional training was the brainchild of two Watertown Middle School Spanish teachers. Holly Cachimeul leaned about Kingian Nonviolence when her class worked with Ruth Henry as part of the Unity Breakfast, put on each year by the World in Watertown to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
A few years ago her class worked with Henry to put together a rap about the Kingian principles and they made a mural showing each of the six principles.
At the time, Henry was not teaching in Watertown. The Watertown native was trained during a course offered at University of Rhode Island and used her training to work in Colombia, South America, and then returned to work in Boston to work with gang members in the South End.
Cachimeul recruited Henry to come teach at the middle school with the goal of having Henry spread her training in nonviolence within the Watertown Schools.
Henry said she hoped to bring this training to all teachers, but thought it would be several years before she would have the opportunity. Instead, she was able to do it after two years.
“I thought I would have to push hard and thought it would take a long time, but Dr. Fitzgerald called me,” Henry said.
Fitzgerald had seen Lafayette speak in the spring and embraced it.
“I worked with Ruth (Henry) and the Watertown Police and wrote a MOVA (Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance) grant,” Fitzgerald said.
Cachimeul said she believes the nonviolence principles should be part of the experience for all students in town. She hopes the recent trainings will plant the seeds in Watertown that will grow a forest.
“It will dealing with the ‘-isms,'” Cachimeul said. “Police officers and teachers teaming up, we can’t be stopped!”