Jacksonville Friends believe that the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) is at the center of learning, and that a non-violent and peaceful society evolves from individuals and communities that learn to resolve conflict through mutual respect for one another’s’ differences which include race, culture, and/or religion, and “lifestyle”. People must learn to be peaceful with one another in order to build a peaceful world out of the current state of social and political anomie that we currently live in, not only beginning in our communities, but also worldwide. It is in that light that we as a Meeting have taken up this ministry here in Jacksonville.
If you accept the premise that all behavior is learned, then it logically follows that negative behavior can actually be “unlearned”. There are many models, programs, processes, and motivational hucksters that superficially promote this dynamic. However, they always emanate from “above” within our societal structure. This based on economic achievement, political manipulation, degree and/or certification, or as promotion for book sales, and their motives are often self-serving, rather than geared to bringing about a world of peace. It is this power that must be transformed, and that can only happen if we begin that transformation in our home communities.
I have been a direct action advocate for peace since I joined and began working with Vietnam Veterans Against The War in 1971. I am still at it, currently serving on the Board of Directors of Veterans For Peace. In that capacity I have experienced a lot of personal growth in regards of social and political conflict resolution. In all of my years of searching and practice until now; I have never before encountered a methodology that actually begins at the roots, and grows upward; relating to how we interact with one another within our communities, and how our communities interact with one another, and finally how our collective communities interact with current existing powers that literally control their day to day lives. We have to transform to a peaceful society before we can begin to transform to a peaceful world. Simply said; we need to do something differently than we have been doing in the past.
AVP provides that avenue by providing and nurturing a sense of self-empowerment, community, and the tools with which to begin to initiate this transformation of power. And that is how we as a Meeting came to it, given our bent for social justice issues; recognizing that power is transformative, and that through our actions we are able to change the current paradigm of power from “power over” to “self-empowerment” for every day folks. Since it is a ministry for the powerless, it is not surprising that it began and continues its practice in the prisons of our society. We in Jacksonville surmise that economics is a form of social imprisonment that lends itself to violent conflict resolution in all aspects of the economically oppressed citizens of our American society. In that light, we see AVP as an applicable program to introduce into our poorest communities and schools as a tool for self-empowerment and a path to a peaceful way of daily life.
In that light, our Meeting invited Southeast Yearly Meeting (SEYM) AVP Trainers to Jacksonville to provide us with the AVP Basic Workshop on September 11-13, 2015. It was at first a difficult curriculum for me, because it is a totally group interactive experience which requires folks to get outside of themselves in the company of others and reveal their true selves to others, in order to reinforce others in the group to do the same, and to provide building blocks for a renewed perspective. Once the group interactions began, I felt the spirit/energy of the gathering, and was able to let the guards down and tune into the collective light. That in itself was a transformative experience, for my part.
It was a truly a transformative interaction for all, and we wound up with four solid candidates for the AVP Advanced Workshop that was held at Tampa Meeting House by Tampa Bay AVP this past February 26-28; Elaine Martin, Carolyn Hillhouse-Jones, Nancy O’Byrne, and myself. There were folks and Friends there, from Tampa, Jacksonville, and St. Petersburg, and the positive energy was palpable. The sense of community and belonging created an instant community bond, and the workshop this time was fun and uplifting from start to finish. We now proudly have our Advanced Certificates, and are enthusiastically looking forward to the Training for Facilitators (T4F) Workshop, to be hosted by Jacksonville Meeting and Veterans For Peace Jacob George Chapter 174 on April 29 – 1 May, 2016.
If you are interested in participating in the T4F in Jacksonville on those dates, please contact Jax Team Coordinator Elaine Martin
—Willie Hager, Jacksonville Friends attender
AVP Advanced Workshop in Tampa, Feb. 2016