Civil rights leader explains how she leveraged agapic energy to bring change

02/25/2014 9:40 PM

02/25/2014 11:24 PM

Agapic energy might be a concept not many people have heard of.

That’s because civil rights leader Diane Nash made up the term to better describe the nonviolent efforts to desegregate the South during the 1960s, which she said can also be used to create modern social change.

“The movement of the 1960s provides us with a legacy we can use in 2014,” Nash told a full University of South Carolina Law School auditorium as part of a leadership dialogue Tuesday night.

Agapic energy is energy produced by the love of humankind, Nash said. She coined the term because she was dissatisfied by the term “nonviolence,’ which was used to describe the civil rights protests of the 60s.

“We needed a term that encompassed much more than simply the absence of violence,” Nash said.

A basic principle behind agapic energy is that people are not the enemy, Nash said. However, examples such as unjust political systems, unjust economic systems, racism, sexism, ignorance and emotional and mental illness are the enemy, she said.

If you recognize that people are not the enemy, you can love and respect the person and attack the attitude or action of that person, she said.

Nash used agapic energy during the civil fights movement when she was exposed to overt segregation in Nashville, Tenn., when she was a student at Fisk University.

When Nash obeyed segregation policies, she said she felt she was agreeing she was too inferior to go through front doors and the experience outraged her. So she took action to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She also helped organize the Freedom Riders, activists who rode interstate buses into segregated cities.

Nash’s talk coincided with the university marking the 50th anniversary of the academic year when USC was desegregated.

Fifty years later, agapic energy can be applied to other social problems such as environmental, economic, poverty, mass shooting and more, she said.

Voting is important, but voting is not enough, Nash said. Citizens need to take the future of the country into their own hands, she said.

“We need to realize that there is no one to solve the problems but you and me.”

After her speech, University president Harris Pastides led a dialogue by asking Nash questions and later she answered questions submitted by the audience.

Nash’s legacy exemplifies her own concept of agapic energy and also leadership.

“To say that Diane Nash has led a remarkable life would be a vast understatement,” said Kirk Randazzo of the Carolina Leadership Initiative.

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