Monday, September 24, 2018

Civil Rights Leader Urges Students: Keep Fighting, With Love

Earlier this month, Diane Nash told a full auditorium of University of Illinois Springfield students that she and fellow civil rights activists, “Loved you before we met you.”

She said efforts to make the U.S. a more equitable place had been done, and are still being done, “For generations yet unborn.”

And she urged others to join the cause, or risk sliding into what she sees as an increasingly authoritarian state.

Nash, a native of Southside Chicago, was a key strategist and leader of the student faction of civil rights efforts during the sixties and beyond. She co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which aimed to create a participatory democracy and helped initiate efforts that led to the march from Selma to Montgomery, and ultimately the Voting Rights Act, signed into law in 1965.

Nash is a lesser-known civil rights leader in comparison with her male peers, though as time marches on, her contributions are becoming more widely heralded. In the 2014 film Selma, she is portrayed by actress Tessa Thompson.

Nash is one to cut right to the heart of the matter. “No one can give you what you want unless you know what it is,” she told students.

As a young person, she asked Nashville’s mayor, on the steps of City Hall, if he believed it was wrong to discriminate against people based on the color of their skin. He said he did believe it was wrong, and Nash said that led to a positive shift that ultimately helped lead to the desegregation she and others fought for.

Nash favors a term she coined in place of “nonviolence.” She calls “agapic energy” a force based on the love of all humankind. It’s a force that can be used to “wage war without weapons of violence,” with energy produced from love versus hate, she said.

According to her philosophy, individuals are never the enemy. Unjust political and economic systems are the enemy, racism is the enemy - but you can love an individual regardless of their beliefs and actions while confronting the systems they represent.

This story appeared on NPR Illinois on September 21, 2018.

Read the entire article online.