By Christopher Gillett
Youngstown celebrated Ohio Nonviolence Week Oct. 2 to Oct. 8. Ohio Nonviolence Week is a state-recognized awareness week which does not focus on specific issues like gun violence or domestic violence, but instead on general violence.
The week began with a parade Oct. 2, followed by a dinner Monday Oct. 3, then a poetry slam on Oct. 4 and an art contest Oct. 5.
Anthony Ray Hinton and Dr. Dee Banks will be given the Simeon Booker Award for Courage in the Chestnut Room Oct. 6. Hinton, the national recipient, spent thirty years in prison over murder he did not commit. Dr. Banks, the local recipient, is a local infectious disease doctor who helped spread pandemic awareness.
The event is organized by Sojourn to the Past, an organization that teaches high school students the history of the Civil Rights movement through education, field trips and guest speakers. While based in California, the organization is decentralized.
Ohio Nonviolence Week began in Youngstown in 2009 when Sojourn project students petitioned for their schools to start commemorating the week. The year after they petitioned the local government and Youngstown State University to commemorate the week.
The first parade was held in 2011, in 2013 students petitioned to then Ohio State Senator Joe Schiavoni to introduce a bill to commemorate the week statewide, which passed July 2013.
YSU students and faculty participated in events throughout the week. Natalia McRae, a sophomore social work major, became involved with the Sojourn Project in high school. She said she has been involved with Ohio Nonviolence Week in many ways.
“[In the past] I have marched, I have talked [and] I have sung. We’ve had numerous rallies downtown before the Nonviolence Week parade. I have given presentations,” McRae said. “One of my ultimate favorite things about being a part of Sojourn to the Past is the impact I’ve noticed that I’ve had on my own community. I’ve gotten students who are not interested at all in Sojourn to the Past to ask me questions.”
Susan Moorer, the assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at YSU, has been participating in Ohio Nonviolence Week for the last five years. She said there is a lot to enjoy when it comes to organizing the week and participating.
“My favorite part is coordination. I love reserving the rooms, making sure everything is taken care of and the just parade itself,” Moorer said. “In the past I have participated in the parade, [and] also some of the other activities. Last year, I was a panelist for a five-day reading program.”
Penny Wells, the chair of the Ohio Nonviolence Week committee and executive director of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past, became involved in Nonviolence Week after a storied life.
“I was a teacher in Youngstown City Schools for over 30 years and loved what I did. [I am] not a born Youngstowner, grew up in Dallas, Texas, and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, so this has become my passion,” Wells said.
She participated in the March Against Fear in 1966 and registered people to vote in Choctaw County, Alabama. It was during her time as a teacher she learned about the Sojourn Project, first encountering the Sojourn project at an Orlando teacher’s conference. Since then, she has been one of the main leaders of Ohio Nonviolence Week.
If interested in learning more about Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past, go to its website. If anyone is interested in joining the Sojourn project they can contact Penny Wells at PennyWWells@sbcglobal.net.