Pasquerella Teaches At-Risk Teens

During her time as provost at the University of Hartford, MHC President Lynn Pasquerella trained in Kingian nonviolence through the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence. Although three years have passed, the president recently renewed her involvement with the center, volunteering as a guest speaker in a new program designed to teach at-risk teens how to defuse potentially violent conflicts in peaceful ways.

Victoria Christgau, founder and executive director of the Connecticut Center, said the first offering of ThinKING, a three-week Kingian Nonviolence Youth Leadership Academy, began late last month in Hartford. Some 30 teens participated in the project, which was designed to support children who have incarcerated parents or another family member who has been in prison. Many of the youngsters have already experienced violence personally or been in trouble with local law enforcement.

The participating teens are paid to attend the daily six-hour sessions – just as if it were a summer job, said Pasquerella. Their curriculum, authored by former Freedom Rider and 2012 MHC honorary degree recipient Bernard LaFayette, Jr., is based on the teachings and philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. The students listen to lectures and music, see films, learn about and re-enact historical events from the civil rights movement, and practice role playing.

LaFayette worked with the students himself for four days, and it was he who introduced Pasquerella to the group.

“I told them my story and how there are many different paths to leadership,” said Pasquerella. “I told them the past doesn’t determine what we’ll be in the future.”

“Of all the speakers we’ve had, our students were held spellbound by Lynn,” reported Christgau. “She spoke from her heart and created a buzz that really struck home.”

Christgau said there has been “a tremendous partnership” between her organization and Pasquerella, and they are currently discussing “other opportunities to present Kingian nonviolence training.” Pasquerella hopes to ultimately expand the curriculum of the Hartford program into one that can be used to work towards global nonviolence.

Three colleges are currently participating in the program, which will be repeated next year. Christgau has met with Alan Bloomgarden, director of MHC’s Community-Based Learning Program, to discuss the possibility of having a Mount Holyoke student intern with the program next year.