By Amy Meuers, NYLC CEO
This past Saturday I was at a retreat hosted by the Shinnyo-en Foundation who had brought people together to discuss peace-building and service when I heard about the events in Charlottesville from my roommate. We sat together, listening to the news coverage, reading the reports, and trying desperately to understand what was happening.
I had just spent the day reflecting on and discussing paths to peace, hearing from the amazing young people who are committed to making the world a better place. It was such a stark contrast to the hate-filled images of torches, shields, guns, and faces of rage. As we watched in horror the video of the car ramming into innocent people, I felt a sense of hopelessness. When people are filled with so much anger and hate, how can you even hope to have a peaceful resolution? It was in that moment that I remembered the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Finding love in the face of violence and hatred is not an easy task. My path, the one I choose to walk, is to educate young people about the positive change they can make in the world. It is to help them see injustice around them and act – not with hatred, racism, or threats – but with compassion, caring, and love just as Zyhna, a high school student from Charlottesville, did when she began her petition to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee. She collected hundreds of signatures from students and community members who view the statue as a relic that no longer exemplifies all that their city represents. In a letter to the editor, Zyhna states, “When I think of Robert E. Lee I instantly think of someone fighting in favor of slavery. Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty, and disenfranchisement flood my mind. As a teenager in Charlottesville that identifies as black, I am offended every time I pass it. I am reminded over and over again of the pain of my ancestors and all of the fighting that they had to go through for us to be where we are now.” Zyhna saw and felt an injustice in her community and took action to make positive change. Hers was not a path of violence or destruction, but a path that embraced the democratic principles our Country is founded on.
Each of us has a decision to make. We can choose to do nothing, to say nothing or we can find our path to peace and walk hand-in-hand; standing stronger together against hate, fear, racism, and violence. I hope you will join me.