Peace studies instructor works with students in Milwaukee

By University Communications
October 27, 2016
James Handley speaks with a small group of Milwaukee School of Languages students.

Photo: James Handley speaks with a small group of
Milwaukee School of Languages students.

In mid-August after police fatally shot an armed black man, two nights of protests erupted in Milwaukee, drawing national attention to a city where racial tension already was high. Businesses and cars were burned, and as police cracked down on the protestors and made several arrests, four officers were injured.

One month later, University of Wisconsin-Stout instructor Jim Handley stood in front of hundreds of Milwaukee School of Languages students. He was invited to speak to them about responding to conflict in ways that are constructive rather than destructive and that have potential to lead to reconciliation and, ultimately, peace.

“Their community has been shaken by the recent protests. I think, if nothing else, we planted the seeds of nonviolence with this visit,” said Handley, whose talk was titled “Activism and Nonviolence.”

Handley is a senior lecturer in the applied peace studies minor and in geography in UW-Stout’s social science department. He also is a certified nonviolence trainer and earlier this year held a Kingian Nonviolence training workshop, based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles, at UW-Stout.

On Sept. 16 in Milwaukee, Handley spoke to about 600 high school students in the morning and about 800 middle school students in the afternoon. He has been invited back to present a full-day session Saturday, Nov. 5; several dozen students and five teachers have signed up so far.

Handley raised the questions: What is peace, and is it possible to achieve?

“I discussed ways students can use their individual and collective power to bring about positive social change. I explained the meaning of empathy and the role it plays in nonviolent social movements using Dr. King’s words, ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.’”

Based on their reactions, Handley believes he made inroads with students as he discussed the principles and strategies of nonviolence taught by King “and why grounding our action in King’s teaching will help lead to positive change. Students were engaged and at times enthusiastically participated in the discussion,” Handley said.

James Handley presents to a large group of students.

King once called nonviolent social movements “a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.”

Several students spoke with Handley after his talk about specific ways they can develop and spread nonviolence in their school and community and how love can be elevated to a powerful social force in the struggle for justice, he said.

Handley also visited classes at Milwaukee School of Languages after his talks to further discuss nonviolence, especially as it related to the Milwaukee protests. Teenagers, for example, had a 10 p.m. curfew in August after the protests broke out.

James Handley“Students expressed their anger, fear and frustration regarding the current social conditions in their community. We discussed the idea that there won’t be justice without a struggle, but the ways in which we choose to wage that struggle will be the deciding factor in whether we are successful or not,” Handley said.

Handley was encouraged by how receptive students were to his message that nonviolence and informed activism are a viable path to peace and conflict resolution.

“Days like this give me hope that that will happen,” Handley said.

Along with returning to Milwaukee Nov. 5, Handley has two other training sessions planned this fall.

  • On Saturday, Oct. 29, in De Pere, he will present at St. Norbert College. Handley, as the 2016-17 Dick Ringler Nonviolence Peace Studies Fellow, will hold similar sessions at state campuses in the next 1½ years.
  • On Friday, Nov. 4, at UW-Stout, he will lead a session with Ainka Jackson, director of the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation in Selma, Ala.

Funding for Jackson’s trip is being provided by Students UNITE, a UW-Stout student organization that Handley advises. Jackson also will accompany Handley to Milwaukee Nov. 5.

In the applied peace studies minor at UW-Stout, students explore the root causes of violence and study nonviolent strategies for conflict resolution. 



Middle Photo: James Handley gives a large group presentation.

Bottom Photo: James Handley