Douglass and Wilson students flocking to Non-Violent Clubs supported by the Gandhi Institute

Douglass and Wilson students flocking to Non-Violent Clubs supported by the Gandhi Institute

This article first appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle on 2/20/14.  Due to a D & C server change, some photos are missing.

Dennis Smith in front of Non-Violent Club display case at Douglass

Dennis Smith in front of Non-Violent Club display case at Douglass

• February 10, 2014

Last year I reported on the good works the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence has done throughout the city school district: weekly programming at Wilson Foundation Academy’s In-School Suspension room; at the I’m Ready Alternative Education Program for longterm suspended students; for at-risk 7th and 8th grade male students at Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School #19; and for 8th graders at Dr. Freddie Thomas High School. (see Gandhi Institute reaches out to city school students )

This year I am pleased to report the Institute is expanding its mission by supporting school based nonviolence clubs at Douglass and Wilson (as well as one at Pittsford Mendon).


Cody, Devin, Michelle, Dennis, and Gina (not in picture Nyiaesha Colon, Club President and Gandhi Institute intern)

Fundamentally, the clubs provide a forum for young people to honestly discuss overt uses of violence, as well as every day experiences like bullying, intolerance, and incivility. To those of us who spend time in schools, we know how many students actually reject and resent the often overwhelming “culture of disruption.” Although only now a first step, the clubs have the potential to create that critical mass of students—and it must come from students—to transform a culture of disruption into a culture of cooperation.

To assist the Clubs, the Institute support includes: club mentors to act as a liaison with school staff andstudents, “Master classes” with visiting experts, including global nonviolence teachers like Arun Gandhi and Kingian nonviolence trainers, and $250 stipends for each club.

The clubs are facilitated by Anna-Kristina Pfeifer and Shannon Richmond. Anna is originally from Germany, has studied and lived in the UK, and now makes Rochester her home. Anna is committed to youth empowerment, co-facilitating a participatory video project for youth activists in collaboration with RCTV and supporting sessions in suspension rooms in  different schools in Rochester. For Shannon, studying at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Durban, South Africa sparked her interest in Restorative Justice and led her to the Gandhi Institute where she has facilitated Alternatives to Violence Project workshops in prisons and the community.

Recently, Anna and Shannon invited me to the Douglass Non-Violence Club. There, I spoke at length with Dennis who has experienced the corrosive effects of violence and deeply desires another way. He joined the club to find “people who feel how I feel,” admitting he worries that often he “doesn’t have the guts to take action” because anti-violence and anti-bullying stances often invite derision from his peers.

Dennis tells sad stories of “knockout games” and groups of young men who reflexively verbally and physically assault anyone within hearing and striking distance. I ask who can get through to these young men—parents, peers, teachers, coaches, clergy?—his somber half-nods betray a resigned pessimism. How about those motivational speakers who tell school kids about how they turned around their own lives of violence and anti-social behavior?  Dennis’ answer is heartbreaking: during the talks everyone seems to be getting the message but on the bus trip home the speakers are often ridiculed and mocked.

Dennis’s depiction sadly reminds me of something the Institute Director, Kit Miller, wrote, all too often, “Many people, young and old, in and around Rochester experience violence as inevitable, necessary, and sometimes even pleasurable.”

Dennis conclusions seem bleak. “African-Americans fought so hard for their rights and now”, his voice trailing off, “I think this generation is lost.”

In the end, I actually believe Dennis demonstrates great hope. Sharing his darker feelings at the Non-Violence Club can be cathartic. I sense that, after talking, he feels stronger, more determined to make non-violence work, if not today then tomorrow. With the help of program like this, guys like Dennis can save “lost” generations.

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts