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Reflections from IJPC’s First S. Louise Akers Fellow, Naiomi Gonzalez

In honor of S. Louise Akers, SC, one of the founders of IJPC and its first director, we created a fellowship program to continue her legacy of peace and justice work in our region, the IJPC S. Louise Akers Fellowship through Mercy Volunteer Corps. In the fall of 2021, IJPC welcomed Naiomi Gonzalez as the inaugural S. Louise Akers Fellow and we checked in with her half way into her time to learn more about what drew her to the program, what she’s working on, and how she sees a connection to S. Louise Akers, SC. 

What drew you to the IJPC S. Louise Akers Fellowship through Mercy Volunteer Corps?

I was drawn to the fellowship program for two main reasons 1) I love research and during my time in academia, I explored nonviolent movements in the U.S. such as the anti-war movement and the Civil Rights movement. I also explored the intersection between theology, nonviolence, and social justice. Working on a Certificate in Peace Promotion seemed like a good fit for my interests and skills while also providing me with opportunities to learn and grow 2) After exploring IJPC’s website I admired its commitment to ending the death penalty, advocating for the humanity and dignity of immigrants, educating the public about human trafficking and creating a more just and equitable world via nonviolence. The fellowship would provide me an opportunity to learn more about these issues. 

You have been hard at work researching to create a Certificate in Peace Promotion to be made available to people in Greater Cincinnati. What is something you’ve found in your research that has been most interesting to you?

I have been intrigued to learn about the depth and scope of nonviolent direct action. There tends to be a lot of focus in the media and in some spheres within academia on specific tactics: large marches, sit-ins, taking over freeways, etc. All of these actions are of course incredibly important, but nonviolent direct action includes so much more. Gene Sharp, political scientist who specialized in studying nonviolent action identified 198 methods of nonviolent actions broken up into three categories: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention. The King Center mentions there are more than 250 forms of nonviolent direct action. 

The vast scope of nonviolent direct action available attests to the creativity of nonviolence as well as its inclusivity. People from all walks of life can find an action that they can participate in and they can contribute in creating a more just and equitable world. Not everyone can, especially during a pandemic, be out on the street marching but they can create flyers, they can write articles that are distributed in newspapers or on social media, or they can support boycotts. Nonviolent direct action really taps into the creativity of humans and the various gifts and talents that individuals can bring to nonviolent campaigns and movements. 

In the stories you have learned about S. Louise Akers, SC, how do you see her life connecting with yours and/or this work?

I love hearing about S. Louise Akers. I think what really struck me is how she had a passion for teaching and learning from others and she also was not afraid to speak her mind and stick to her principles. That is such a delicate balance – being able to invite conversation and teach people who may have their own strong ideas and opinions that may directly contradict yours, while also being true to one’s own values and commitments. I also admire her courage. She remained committed to various social justice causes for decades and even in the face of extreme pushback from various individuals and authorities, her commitment to a more just and equitable world never wavered. In addition to honoring her commitment to nonviolence, this certificate also incorporates her passion for teaching others. Her life serves as an inspiration as I craft this certificate program. 

As we begin 2022, what is something you’re looking forward to in the second half of your first year? 

I look forward to pulling together all the information I’ve learned from the books I’ve read, the many many workshops and webinars I’ve participated in, and creating interactive and dynamic workshops. I’m also looking forward to participating in IJPC’s other program areas and continuing to learn about these challenging issues. For example, I’m starting to attend Faith Leaders for Abolition meetings and I look forward to engaging with faith leaders committed to ending the death penalty. I also will have an opportunity to do outreach and talk one on one with other religious leaders about participating in the movement to end the death penalty. Finally, I am also learning about aspects of nonprofit fundraising such as researching and applying for grants.