According to Native American tradition, stories are like medicine. And like medicine, you need different stories for different times. As we stop and assess this moment in time, following Operation Protective Edge which caused the worst violence in the five years of NSL’s existence, incitements and intimidation threaten to shut down expressions of dissent and nonviolence. NSL believes that in a time when stories of fear are spreading a message of fear, its time to find stories of courage that will spread a message of encouragement.
This is what EnCourage is about. It is not about solutions or agreements or dialog or about projects. It is about what Martin Luther King Jr. described as the “soul force” that we need to summon for change when we see people resorting to violence or hate around us.
When we live in a time when young people are under threat and where their very future is in question, we have to ask ourselves: Is this a time for us to retreat? Is this a time to stay quiet?
No, when we look at the annals of history, we see that peacemaking is not for the faint of heart, as Congressman Ellison told the team this summer. There comes crucible moments for all of us where we have to dig deeper and find the courage to stay the course, to stand our ground and double down on our belief that there is a future to be created together rather than always going back to the sorry past as the excuse to stay apart.
Our alums face increasing intimidation and threat to even be a participant of NSL, and returning graduates face threats to their life when people find out that they spend a summer with “the enemy”. NSL is more and more under scrutiny from critics who accuse us of being another normailization program. We are not dodging these critics or offering lame excuses. Instead, are ready to face them, and to demonstrate the courage that our alums display. For we know from history that no major change happens easily, it is always because a man or woman of courage was prepared to take a risk, to make a leap of faith, and refuse to play it safe. Could America have ended slavery or granted equal voting rights to women, if it were not for courageous actors who refused to listen to the nay says? Those who refuse to be intimidated by threats and refuse to sacrifice their consciences to convenience are the leaders we are looking to inspire.
Peace and creating a better future requires strong leaders who possess innovation and imagination. But, even with all of these talents, nothing is possible without the core quality of courage, the willingness to step out and step up and be seen and be heard. The courage to face down those who use the very war of words that they condemn their oppressors of using: bullying, oppression, censorship, character assassination,
We can dream and talk and plan and share, but unless our courage can catch fire and inspire a new generation we cannot make a difference. We mus inspire emerging leaders not to accept the present as the given, the future as inevitable, and the past as the lesson learned. They can make a difference. Courage says the past is where we got lost, the present is passing, and the future is an invitation to create change.