, Port Arthur, Texas

January 18, 2014

PA students learn MLK's message of nonviolence

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Students had just settled into their seats at the Westside Development Center Saturday morning when their comfort zones were breached.

“Stand up,” Charles Alphin, Sr. told the crowd of Port Arthur children. “Go find someone you don’t know, someone different from you, and sit with them.”

Within minutes, the entire seating chart had been switched around, and students found themselves learning details about peers they had never held a conversation with prior that day.

“In nonviolence, you have to talk to people other than the ones in your little clique,” Alphin said. “If people don’t talk to each other in the community, they will turn on each other.”

That exercise was just one of the methods Alphin used to illustrate the six principles of nonviolence developed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Dr. Martin Luther King Support Group’s workshop with State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont.

Alphin, a retired St. Louis police captain, became especially familiar with these principles while working as the director of education at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. He said that King’s widow, the late Coretta Scott King, wanted to ensure that young people didn’t view the holiday she fought so tirelessly for as merely a day to sleep in and shop.

“She wanted to make sure people did something that paralleled the philosophy of Dr. King — and that philosophy is so relevant today because of conflicts we have,” Alphin said. “We want to teach how Dr. King used nonviolence to change conditions that were not fair to all people.”

King cultivated these principles by studying the works of various philosophers such as Plato, Socrates and Karl Marx in his search for truth during the civil rights movement, Alphin said.

“In conflict, you have the choice to escalate or defuse the situation,” Alphin said. “It’s all in how you respond, and your response parallels those principles.”

King taught that one must always ask themselves, “What is the goal?” when faced with conflict, Alphin said.

“The goal depends on your actions,” he said. “And your actions should always be to lift people up.”

Willie Mae Elmore, a member of the MLK Support Group, said she was pleased with the collaborative efforts that resulted in the event’s near-capacity turnout.

“It’s encouraging when you see the kind of collaboration that can make positive change,” she said.

Alphin agreed, expressing his admiration for the city of Port Arthur.

“To get young people up early on a Saturday morning to participate in something that’s not hip hop is phenomenal,” he said. “I refuse to hear that young people don’t care.”


Twitter: @ErinnPA