• Joy Meikle

CTCN Interview - Using Art to Teach Nonviolence in Connecticut

The MLK39:39 MLK Racial Equity Mural Tour is in full swing! Our artists have been busy planning and creating an array of powerful and inspiring murals to be unveiled this summer. We can't wait for you to see them!

One of the major inspirations behind the Racial Equity mural tour is the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To honor this legacy, CT Murals is partnering with the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence (CTCN) to provide a half-day nonviolence training to every community getting a mural.

In anticipation of this partnership, we sat down with Victoria Christgau, the founder and Executive Director of CTCN, to talk about the teachings and philosophy of Kingian nonviolence and how the center is using the arts to spread the word about nonviolence.

What is the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence?

The Connecticut Center for Nonviolence (CTCN) supports educational opportunities to create a culture of nonviolence. We continue leadership in communities that are vulnerable due to structural and racial violence. We train people who live and work in these communities to become Kingian nonviolence practitioners. Once someone has received a level 1 training, they can begin teaching others in their community. CTCN has been working in public schools and in five CREC High Schools, and with law enforcement. We have also partnered with arts organizations, AmeriCorps, places of worship and other civic organizations.

Christgau (in the middle left with the tan hat) with ThinkKING Youth Group

What is Kingian nonviolence and how is it different from just being “kind” to one another?

Kingian nonviolence is a practice as well as a strategy. It’s a commitment. It is a way of life rooted in love and fueled by justice. It is how we maintain and grow the beloved community. There’s no destination. Every day we want to be more nonviolent than we were before.

Kingian nonviolence is not merely passive resistance. It’s an active resistance to that which is considered evil. It uses the weight of the soul to shift systems, galvanize people, and organize for change. When we practice nonviolence, we are comfortable being in hard and difficult conversations about what is really needed to change systems that have oppressed people for so long.

King devoted his life to the struggle against racism. We are a far way off from true peace, justice and equity in this country. How is antiracism included in the nonviolence framework you teach at CTCN?

Anti-racism is part and parcel of Kingian nonviolence. The curriculum we teach covers the whole Civil Rights Movement and all the people that worked with Martin Luther King. We examine the injustice and racism that prompted the movement. Our trainings are often attended by interracial participants and the dynamic atomosphere creates opportunity for honest conversations. We aim at making these sessions safe and welcoming. There is room for growth, awareness and forgiveness.

A youth painting part of a mural depicting Principle Three of Nonviolence: Attack Problems, Not People

I’m interested in how the arts are intentionally infused into the curriculum you teach at CTCN. Was this partnership with the arts community always important to your vision for CTCN and, if so, why?

AT CTCN, we model how to reconcile conflict through education and the arts. We seek to use the arts in every way possible to teach the Six Principles of Nonviolence and bring them out. We especially use art with young people. This includes singing, creative writing, theater and visual arts, specifically murals

We also recently started working with Teaching Artists to help them teach the principles of nonviolence through their own arts discipline. Dr. Bernard Lafayette says that “Violence is the language of the inarticulate.” If you haven’t got a voice or a way to express yourself, that’s when you can explode. Supporting young artists to work on understanding nonviolence through their arts discipline is just another way to articulate those things living inside of you that need to be expressed. Everyone needs to find their positive avenues of expression. Nonviolence provides that.

Can you please tell me more about how you’ve used murals to spread the teachings of nonviolence?

We’ve been working on something called the Six Principles of Nonviolence Mural Project. We’ve completed three so far and look forward to doing three more. Matt [founder and Executive director of CT Murals] helped us with one of our projects, and he got this huge fire behind him to build the MLK mural campaign. I’m so happy that the MLK project is using visual images to relay the messages and the power of this work!

Principle Two of Nonviolence on a wall of the Northend Church of Christ, Hartford

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