History

An Idea that has Inspired Thousands

A Brief History of the Center for Nonviolence

By John Beams

 

The men and women who founded the Center for Nonviolence were part of historical social movements, and brought their vision to this new work. The Center for Nonviolence was incorporated in 1981. But, before this could happen, there was the anti-slavery movement of the 1850’s , the women’s suffrage movement of the 1870’s, the civil rights movement of  the 1950’s, the ending of legal discrimination in the 1960’s, the anti-war movement of the 1960’s, the right of women to end abusive marriages with no-fault divorce in the 1970’s, the first women’s shelters and rape crisis centers and women’s studies programs in Fort Wayne, and the movement in education from oppression to dialogue and empowerment.

 

The incorporators were five men who agreed that the women who were leading the march against domestic violence, rape and pornography should not stand alone. The founders of the Center for Nonviolence were Richard Johnson, Sox Sperry, John Beams, Rick Ritter and Michael Mettler. These five men had been part of a profeminist men’s group, meeting weekly to educate ourselves about men’s violence against women, and to support each other in developing ways to be real partners with the women in our lives, all of whom were feminist activists, and to be allies with the women in the community who had started the programs and institutions that were leading the fight against violence: the Fort Wayne Feminists, the Rape Crisis Center, the Women’s Shelter, the Women’s Bureau, the Indiana-Perdue University Fort Wayne Women’s Studies Program. During the mid-seventies, we men had met in our homes weekly for about five years educating ourselves about male social role conditioning and supporting each other in our own personal change process. We were working in professions that involved education, law, civil rights and peace and healing for veterans, and we all shared, with the leaders of the women’s movement, a radical vision that believed in a world emerging from legacies of oppression, war and violence. We began to awaken to the fact that we could be of service by appearing publically as allies to the women’s movement, and by offering support to other men who were ready to consider making personal changes.

 

Originally, we did not intend to start an organization or program. We did want a public identity stating that challenging men’s violence is men’s work, with alliance and leadership from women. We called ourselves “Men against Violence against Women.” We marched with women to protest events in which public officials (a judge, a police officer) committed offenses against women’s right to be free of rape. We wrote letters to the editor and we spoke up at public forums, as men supporting the feminist vision. We wanted women to know that we believed that their instincts were right about oppression. We wanted men to know that our “manhood” is not at risk when we serve as equal partners. We also drew linkages between men’s interpersonal violence (power and control over women and children), and the abuse of power in institutional hierarchies. We also linked men’s consciousness with interpersonal violence with social norms that promote and sustain international warfare and global aggression.

In 1981 we were asked by two different people to meet and work with batterers. Women’s shelter Director Jan Bates asked if we would be willing to handle the husbands and boyfriends who were calling the shelter trying to get their partners to come home. Steve Sim’s, who had seen positive outcomes as a talented deputy prosecutor whenever he had prosecuted rape cases in which the victim had had contact with peer counselors at the all –volunteer Rape Awareness Project (later to become a program of the Ft. Wayne Women’s Bureau). He had just been elected Allen County Prosecutor. He asked if we well-intended male volunteers could talk a little sense into men arrested for misdemeanor battery. Not knowing what we were getting into, we said “Yes”.

 

At that time, there may have been only five batterer’s programs in the nation, none in Indiana. We traveled and observed.  In one of these travels, we attended a weekend retreat in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, organized by national leaders in the battered women’s movement who challenged us not to create men’s support groups, but to be concerned with accountability and with challenging our local legal system to arrest, prosecute and hold batterers accountable, and to stop blaming victims.

 

Women’s Program. In 1983, we had developed several hundred contact-hours in batterer intervention groups for men. We soon realized that good intentions were not enough. While we always respected and consulted women’s leadership, we really had to have the daily presence of women’s consciousness in our work. We invited Beth Beams, who had been a founder or collaborator in most of the local feminist initiatives and had worked at the shelter, along with Sherry Hesting, who also worked at the shelter, to lead outreach programs for the men’s partners and for other women. The Women’s Program also set up a monitoring system to give men’s program facilitators feedback from the victim’s perspective.

 

Youth Program. By 1987, we started providing services for young men and this evolved into a full significant youth program, offering groups for teens and pre-teens in the office on a weekly basis, plus several weekly visits to the Ft. Wayne Community School’s “Alternative Learning Program” to lead classes in nonviolent skills for youth who had been removed from mainstream classes due to behavior problems. The youth program began to offer summer camps and opened up a snack bar and activity center at a local housing project. We continue to lead the community in its ability to sit down with young people and talk with respect, and to elicit understanding through dialogue.

 

 

Latino Program. In 1994 the demands of the growing immigrant population from Mexico, Central and South America made us realize that we must provide services in their native language. We were blessed with the emergence of Carman Pendleton, a Peruvian native, who immediately grasped the essence of the Center’s mission and spirit, and soon, as a part time staff person, had rooms full of women needing a safe circle. By 1998 it became clear that the group work and advocacy needs demanded employment of a full time person. Several of the Center staff members volunteered to take pay cuts in order to ensure funding for the new Latina Coordinator. Ana Giusti was hired in June 1999 and has remained ever since, guiding this program to a position of recognition and respect in Ft. Wayne and beyond. Latino men’s groups were started by part time staff including Tony Acosta who was hired in March 1999, and then José Luis Rivera, a native of El Salvador, became the first full time Latino Programs Coordinator in November 2002. He has become active as a profeminist Latino advocate at the state and national level. We continue to energize the Latino community with groups, workshops, presentations that deal with nonviolence.

 

History of the Organizational Model. The Center for Nonviolence, from the very beginning, has been organized as a circle, not a hierarchy. This model was, again, inherited from the feminist educational circles of the 1960’s and 70’s in which women were highly conscious of power dynamics and wanted all to be seen and heard equally. We found that, in the early days, it was enjoyable to talk at length and wait until everyone agreed before making any decisions. In the early 1980’s, we went to United Way for some money and were told that they would like to fund us, but that we needed to establish a hierarchy, for accountability. We declined, and of course, in effect refused the funding. Always, we have refused to establish any individual as an Executive Director. The organization has always been lead by a team of full time staff members, changing in numbers over the years between five and twelve, but always committed to consensus decision making, and sitting in circles (At this time, June 2008, there are seven of us). Each program has always been managed by a team of full and part time staff working by consensus, referred to as “collectives”. After the meeting with United Way, we did agree that we could benefit by independent community people, not paid to work at the Center, who could advise and guide us, but in the spirit of collaboration rather than power-over. We gave this group the name “Coordinating Panel” rather than “Board of Directors”, in order to serve as a constant reminder to use power in a fair, respectful manner, and to consider the wishes of the staff and the collectives, attempting always to arrive at corporate decisions through collaborative means. This process has always been slow, sometimes frustrating, yet very strong, because, in the end, everyone knows about and has agreed to each decision. Consensus means that no decision passes without the consent of every member of the group. We now use a process called “formal consensus” which involves rules that are as clear and uniform as “Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary procedure” (though not as lengthy). This has enabled the Center to use consensus process efficiently even with a heavy work load and a large staff.

 

The Center for Nonviolence began in the back of John Beams’ law office at 1122 Broadway, sharing office equipment, telephone and an IBM Selectric typewriter. In 1993, we purchased, with help from local foundations, a Victorian three-story home at 235 W. Creighton Ave. By the end of 2006, National City Bank donated an annex at 1825 McKinnie Ave.. Our spaces have always been filled to overflowing.

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