Nash talks 'agapic energy' at King celebration

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Jan. 25, 2013
The Glastonbury High School Madrigal Singers perform 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' with the Windsor High School Teens of Praise Gospel Choir. Photos by Steve Smith.
The Glastonbury High School Madrigal Singers perform 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' with the Windsor High School Teens of Praise Gospel Choir. Photos by Steve Smith.

When keynote speaker Diane Nash first mentioned “agapic energy” at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Smith Middle School on Jan. 21, she said many people may not be familiar with the term. “I am not surprised, because I made it up,” she said, explaining that “agape” is the Greek word for brotherly love, or the love of human kind, and she adapted that term to describe Gandhi's way of waging war without using violence.

Nash, a contemporary of Dr. King, organized several sit-ins and demonstrations during the civil rights movement. A student at the time, she engaged fellow students and co-workers in conversations and efforts of non-violent protest and co-founded the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Nash explained some of the principles of non-violence or “agapic energy” – the first of which is that people are never one's enemy. “Some of you are probably thinking that I can say that only because I don't know some of the people that you know,” she joked, adding that unjust political and economic systems, as well as attitudes such as ignorance, racism and sexism are the real enemies.

“If you recognize that people are not the enemy, you can love and respect the person at the same time you attack the attitude of that person,” she said, adding the example of segregated buses in Alabama. “The day blacks in Montgomery decided there would no longer be segregated buses, there were no longer segregated buses in Montgomery,” she said. “It took no change on the part of the whites. The only person you can change is yourself. When you change yourself, the world has to fit up against the new you. We changed ourselves into people who could not be segregated. We presented a new set of options to southern white racists.”

Nash said another principle is that “oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed. If the oppressed withdraw their cooperation from an oppressive system, that system will fall,” she said.

About King, Nash said she knew him well, having had several discussions with him about strategy. “He was fun to be with, socially,” she said. “He was capable of growth and change. He would sometimes confront problems. Sometimes he was stopped and stymied by those problems, but he was able to cope with the situation, and over time was able to rise to a new level and discover new solutions. He kept his hand on the plow, and sometimes could walk through storms. He inspired and renewed me, when I heard him speak.”

She said King was not the leader of the civil rights movement, but rather a spokesperson, and that the civil rights movement took place because of all of the people who took action, not just because of one man.

“He was a great man, and his contribution was tremendous,” she said. “The reason it's important to understand that is because when people look around today and see things that need to be changed, they say, 'I wish we had a great leader like a Martin Luther King, so that this could get done.' If they understood that it was a people's movement, they would say, 'What can I do?'”

Nash urged citizens of this country to exercise their power, and not wait for elected officials to act. “Can you imagine if we had waited for elected officials to desegregate lunch counters and buses, and to get the right to vote in the south? We probably would still be waiting,” she said, adding some words of advice for anyone who wants to make any sort of change.

“Trust yourself,” she said. “The politicians and people who've been running the world have made a pretty big mess of things. If you do your best, you're not going to do worse than them. Identify the problem on which you want to work, learn what you need to know about the problem, study agapic energy and how to use it, and then take action.”

Also at the celebration, GHS senior Lyzzy Capreol won the design contest for the celebration's flyer, and was presented with a framed copy, signed by Nash. Another senior, Erin Perry, created a flyer for the group's conversations, and also received a framed and signed copy.

GHS students Amanda Cole and Catherine Cuva were also recognized for their participation in Anytown – a retreat that addresses and reduces inter-group prejudice and conflict.

The Joan Kemble Beloved Community Award was given to former Anytown scholar and GHS Student Council President Amanda Siskind, for her work in applying the principles learned at Anytown to her community.

A follow-up conversation on how the non-violence movement of the 1960s holds lessons for today will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 4 at the Riverfront Community Center.

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