Join Hands “Peace Warriors” Advocate Kingian Nonviolence to Deliver Change

Join Hands “Peace Warriors” Advocate Kingian Nonviolence to Deliver Change

Peace Warriors proudly wear their t-shirts after a training, showing their commitment to living out Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence.

(East St. Louis, Ill.) – It is one thing to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence, but even more courageous to live out those principles on a daily basis. Teens in East St. Louis are doing just that as “Peace Warriors,” teaching Kingian nonviolence to peers and enacting Dr. King’s vision in their schools and communities. These motivated youth from Join Hands, a community-based nonprofit in East St. Louis, are the second nationally-certified teen group in the United States to implement the peer-to-peer application of Peace Warriors. Since then, they have provided small group training to over 60 students and three administrators at area high schools in an effort to diffuse violence and promote peace.

“It all started in the summer of 2018 when we took five students to North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago to be trained in Dr. King’s six principles of nonviolence,” explained Sheila Burton, Executive Director at Join Hands. “North Lawndale was the first to implement the program and they have achieved amazing results. Our students were excited to share what they learned so 10 of them underwent the formal 40-hour certification process last summer in order to become Kingian nonviolence trainers themselves. This involved both a written and oral examination to pass. Since then, they have conducted more than 10 trainings for high school and middle school students in East St. Louis and Cahokia.”

Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence include: 1) Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people; 2) The Beloved Community is the framework for the future; 3) Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil; 4) Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve a goal; 5) Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence; and 6) The universe is on the side of justice. The trainings include activities and discussion surrounding topics such as different levels of conflict, diffusing violence within self, and addressing potentially violent situations among peers at school and the larger community. Teens not only learn the theory and purpose of Dr. King’s principles, but they learn practical methods of application in order to influence behaviors and be a force for positive change.

According to Peace Warrior Monyè Rodgers, “Becoming involved as a trainer has challenged me to think differently and have a positive outlook in my view of others. I realize that not everyone is bad and people can change for the better. We can all contribute to being courageous during a potentially violent situation, and serve as positive role models for our peers.”

The training sessions typically occur on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons during the week at the Join Hands Ubuntu Center for Peace in East St. Louis. This requires a significant commitment by the training team who do all of the session planning and facilitation. While they use guidelines from their formal certification process, they rely on their own inspiration and creativity for developing activities and programming that balances fun and serious discussion based on the audience. It is especially impressive considering they are actively-involved high school students themselves, some with part-time jobs.

Join Hands Peace Warriors pictured with Dr. and Mrs. Bernard Lafayette during their recent civil rights tour.

“We typically have five to 10 people in our trainings, and we personalize our sessions based on things we see in the community,” said Peace Warrior Jasmine Bonner. “It’s important that we listen, be open-minded, and apply what we are teaching to the lives of those we train. We like to use check-in and check-out techniques to measure where are peers stand at the beginning of the training and what they’ve learned by the end.”

Jasmine’s twin sister and fellow Peace Warrior, Jamaya Bonner concurs. Adding that there are simple ways to change behaviors for the better. “Everything we do is referenced back to Dr. King’s principles. Simple actions like befriending someone who exhibits violent behaviors, or knowing when to walk away when a situation is escalating, or seeking assistance from a trusted adult when needed. Our goal is to teach them the right approach by creating an atmosphere where they aren’t afraid to open up and have an honest discussion among peers.”

One of the highlights for students who are trained is receiving their Peace Warrior t-shirt, which they wear proudly as they go about living their lives with newfound knowledge to empower peers to espouse Dr. King’s principles through positive interaction and a renewed outlook on enacting real change.

“To see young people so encouraged to live out Dr. King’s principles and inspire their peers to do the same is absolutely incredible,” said Burton. “In only a short time, we’ve seen tremendous growth in both our Peace Warriors and the program. We recently took our Peace Warriors on a civil rights tour to Birmingham, Alabama, where they walked in Dr. King’s footsteps and met Dr. and Mrs. Bernard Lafayette, who knew Dr. King and were icons of the civil rights movement. Continually sharing Dr. King’s message is something that will stay with them forever and something we need to share far and wide.”

For more information about Peace Warriors, to support the program, or to have a training scheduled at your school, contact Sheila Burton at

About Join Hands ESL

Join Hands ESL, Inc. is a community-based 501c3 nonprofit organization founded in 1990 to serve children and families in East St. Louis, Illinois. Focused on building lasting relationships with families, parents and children, Join Hands empowers and opens doors of opportunity, providing a pathway out of poverty by prioritizing education and walking in solidarity with those in its programs. This includes youth programming, family mentoring, teen mentoring, educational services, career-planning, Peace Warrior programs and ongoing community outreach. All programs are housed at the Ubuntu Center for Peace, which also welcomes members of the larger community as an oasis of peace and dignity for all. Join Hands currently partners with many organizations, including East Side Aligned, which is a collaborative impact effort to better serve the needs of children in East St. Louis. For more information visit