By MELISSA REESE
Salisbury University students had the opportunity to listen to Diane Nash, a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement, share her efforts of desegregation in Nashville and her philosophy of nonviolence by using agapic energy to achieve social change March 28.
Nash defined agapic energy as a brotherly or sisterly love for humanity. She based her term on the three Greek words that mean love: eros (romantic love), filial (parental love) and agape (selfless love).
She was dissatisfied with the term “nonviolence” and felt she needed a term that encompassed more than the absence of violence. She said agapic energy is not a perfect term, but it has a more positive connotation than nonviolence.
Nash grew up in the South Side of Chicago, which she believes was not overtly segregated. She moved to Nashville in 1959 to attend Fisk University, which was an unsettling experience for her because it was the first time she had to endure the overt segregation of “whites only” signs and having to sit in the back of the bus.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Nash received an education in nonviolence from Rev. James Lawson. She attended sit-ins to protest segregated lunch counters in downtown Nashville.
Nash became a symbol of nonviolent protest philosophy and was elected chair of the Student Central Committee. In 1960, she led many student protests, which ultimately led to Nashville becoming the first southern city to desegregate lunch counters.
Nash and her husband, James Bevel, were arrested dozens of times in their school desegregation campaigns and Freedom Rides to protest segregated bus terminals in the South, which led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to present them with the prestigious Rosa Parks Award.
The evening began with Dr. John Wesley Wright leading a sing-a-long with traditional African-American songs used during the Civil Rights Era.
While these songs were inspirational in the Civil Rights Era, they are still relevant nowadays, Wright said. Many of these songs have been modernized for the current generation.
“I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom,” Wright sang. “Freedom come, and it won’t be long.”
Sophomore Jeremiah Copeland also lent his musical talent to the event. He performed his rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come,” which music artist Sam Cooke wrote about not being allowed to stay at a whites-only motel in Louisiana.
“It’s been a long time comin,’ but I know a change is gonna come,” Copeland sang.
Nash said she felt she became subconsciously submissive to the rules of segregation. She believes she lessened her own power and gave more power to her oppressors by tolerating injustice with her silence.
“When I obeyed the rules of segregation, it felt like I was agreeing,” Nash said. “We often give up our power without realizing it.”
Nash believes emotions hold power. She said the power of emotion calls people to action.
“Emotions produce energy,” Nash said. “Love is an emotion, and love produces energy also.”
Nash acknowledged that it is difficult to feel a universal love for humanity. She said man is not the enemy, but the institutional racism that man created is.
“Users of agapic energy are not pacifists; we are activists,” Nash said. “We don’t expect violent warfare to be easy, and we shouldn’t expect nonviolent warfare to be easy.”
Nash realized the systematic racial injustice would not fall by the will of politicians. She said if people waited for policymakers to make change happen, instead of creating a movement led by the people, those people would still be waiting for change to occur.
“Oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed,” Nash said. “If the oppressed withdraw their cooperation, the system will fall.”
Nash fought for desegregation and social equality for African-Americans for decades beyond the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. She said her battle toward racial equality still rages on.
“Freedom is not something you get and you’ve got it,” Nash said. “Freedom is a never-ending struggle.”
Freshman accounting major Nhi Nguyen said she had never thought about the concept of agapic energy until hearing Nash speak. She thought Nash opened up people’s minds to the idea of having a universal love for humanity and using that energy to guide them rather than using violent energy to achieve their goals.
“Agapic energy is a very interesting concept,” Nguyen said. “I enjoyed what she talked about, what she opened minds to, because the whole thing about a movement is to inform others, to educate them, to change their minds.”
Londan Showell, a freshman communication arts and English double major, said people need to apply several different strategies in order to more effectively address social inequalities.
“In order for us to be more effective about combating all the isms: racism, sexism, homophobia…we need to apply all of the nonviolent tactics,” Showell said. “We need to do everything in order for us to move forward.”
Nash believes people need to be more direct when they are talking about social issues in order to make the world more understanding and educated. She said history exists to teach people lessons about how to persevere and fight for justice in the face of devastation and hopelessness.
“History’s main function is to help us cope with the present,” Nash said. “Always make the decision that will make you respect the person in the mirror.”
Featured image of Diane Nash taken by Melissa Reese.