Bernice King began her second visit to Riverview Gardens High School by telling students about her own anger. Her father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was gunned down in his prime. Her uncle, Alfred Daniel Williams King, died amid suspicious circumstances.
King told them about that anger boiling over. She told them about striking a friend in the head with a bottle after an argument. Anxiety filled King while waiting for her friend to wake up after being knocked unconscious.
King told students anger can consume them.
“The more violence that you engage in, the more violence that’s going to come your way,” King said. “Because violence attracts violence, that’s just real.”
Along with staff from the Atlanta-based King Center, King then walked students through the principles of nonviolence, encouraging them to use their frustrations as fuel for their own success. She told them to set goals and focus on them with laser-like precision to keep from sliding off the rails.
In the wake of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shooting Michael Brown on Aug. 9, King said the need for nonviolence is pressing. She worries that violent clashes between police and protesters could return if a grand jury doesn’t bring charges against Wilson.
“Our job is to plant the necessary seeds in this community with enough people who can then branch out and train others,” King said. “We’re hoping that this training will be effective enough, so that if nothing else, it will minimize what could possibly happen.”
Many students in the district live close to where demonstrations sprung up along West Florissant last month. The Canfield Green Apartment complex where Brown was shot is within the boundaries of the Riverview Gardens School District. Several residents there say they felt trapped by police barricades used to contain demonstrations and they worry about violence returning.
It’s a topic that’s certainly on the mind of Donovan Davis, a junior at Riverview Gardens High School.
“A lot of people feel if (Wilson) doesn’t get tried, it’s going to go back to that same issue, because that’s the only way for them to get their point across,” Davis said.
Davis said he’s felt anger, too. As a young African-American male, Davis said he’s felt targeted by police.
“What do I do if I’m racially profiled? How do I not have a target on my back everywhere I go?” Davis said.
Charles Alphin, a retired captain with the St. Louis Police Department, said he hopes to train students how to focus those types of frustrations when he returns for an extended nonviolence training Oct. 1-4.
“Whatever the verdict is for Darren Wilson, it teaches them: What do I do with my anger?” Alphin said. “We teach them what to do with your anger so that it’s positive. Dr. King was angry. Dr. King didn’t like the dogs and fire hoses. But what did he do with that anger? We teach them how to send that anger in the right direction.”