Awakin Calls » Jonathan Greenberg

Jonathan Greenberg: Builder of Beloved Community, Teacher and Devotee of Nonviolence
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Apr 24, 2021: A Builder of Beloved Community Cultivates Hearts and Skills for Peace


Watch: Video Recording

Read: Call Transcript (Also: Nuggets From Jonathan Greenberg's Call)


At 12 years old, Jonathan D. Greenberg was leafing through his family’s Life magazine when, to his horror, he came across images of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. These evoked other haunting images he’d seen before—the civil war and famine in Biafra, and the Watts riots in Los Angeles, just on the other side of town from where his family was living. These senseless acts of violence disturbed and alarmed his sensitive heart. Inspired by his rabbi, Leonard Beerman, who was outspoken against the Vietnam War as well as against inequality in the United States, Greenberg, still in middle school, participated in his first protest against the Vietnam War. The passion and empowerment he felt would come to ignite a lifelong calling in restorative justice and human See full.

At 12 years old, Jonathan D. Greenberg was leafing through his family’s Life magazine when, to his horror, he came across images of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. These evoked other haunting images he’d seen before—the civil war and famine in Biafra, and the Watts riots in Los Angeles, just on the other side of town from where his family was living. These senseless acts of violence disturbed and alarmed his sensitive heart. Inspired by his rabbi, Leonard Beerman, who was outspoken against the Vietnam War as well as against inequality in the United States, Greenberg, still in middle school, participated in his first protest against the Vietnam War. The passion and empowerment he felt would come to ignite a lifelong calling in restorative justice and human rights.

In 2018, Greenberg co-founded the Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice at the University of San Francisco, whose purpose is to “disseminate the teachings and strategies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi in response to the moral emergencies of the 21st century.”  The institute aims to serve students, activists, and thinkers to advance the theory and practice of transformational nonviolence—as a means to powerfully confront and overcome injustice and systemic violence and contribute to the just resolution of communal conflict. Greenberg founded the institute with his friend and colleague Dr. Clarence B. Jones, who served as Dr. King’s lawyer, strategic adviser, and draft speechwriter from 1960 until Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, having spent countless hours together “in crisis and action, negotiation and decision, intimate conversation and prayer.”  

Prior the Institute, Greenberg spent more than 30 years researching, writing, and teaching, primarily at Stanford Law School and the Stanford Program in Public Policy. His teaching stood out for its direct, experiential formats. For example, in a favorite course at Stanford’s International Conflict and Negotiation Center, he arranged for students to spend a weekend together, holed up in the mountains, to mock-negotiate an end to the Serbian-Kosovo conflict. The close quarters and the diversity of students—which included an Israeli and a Palestinian lawyer—made for lively engagement, with students laboring into the night. “This is the space where I come alive,” Greenberg said, “in those moments of true connection, soul to soul.” 

Greenberg also directed a research project on Martin Luther King, Jr., at Stanford’s Daniel Martin Gould Center for Conflict Resolution, and served as faculty at Stanford’s Center for African Studies and Center for Latin American Studies. Today, Greenberg focuses his life-long study of Dr. King and Gandhi as the director of the USF Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, where he explores a wide scope of issues: racial inequities, women’s issues, Myanmar, democracy crackdowns in Hong Kong, to name a few. In each case, he focuses on the transformative power of organized, disciplined nonviolence the face of injustice. His leadership in Step Up on Second, a community-based organization that provides permanent housing for homeless adults living with mental illness in California and the greater United States echoes this wide scope.

Please join Janessa Wilder in conversation with this public servant for peace and nonviolence.


Five Questions for Jonathan
What Makes You Come Alive?

Martin Buber believed that true life -- and God -- becomes realized in the "between" space that emerges from authentic human encounter and dialogue. This is the space where I come alive, in those moments of true connection, soul to soul. It can happen with a loved one and it can happen with a stranger. It is in the human moment where I can awaken, to use the word from your group.

Pivotal turning point in your life?

Pivotal turning points in my life's journey include: being an impressionable young person exposed through nightly TV news to the horrors of the Vietnam War, and to the anti-war sermons of my rabbi Leonard Beerman; having the privilege to study deeply in meaningful seminars as an undergraduate; becoming a 7th & 8th grade teacher in New York after college, starting me on the teaching path for the rest of my life; supporting close family members struggling with mental illness throughout my life; meeting my Japanese wife in line to see Bob Dylan in Tokyo; the birth and development of our two boys; becoming close to the remarkable Dr. Clarence B. Jones and joining him to found our institute for nonviolence and social justice.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?

My parents's support for my education. A therapist who helped me understand as a young person that all thoughts and feelings are OK.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?

I would love to follow parts of Kukai's pilgrimage trail on Shikoku Island.

One-line Message for the World?

Dr. King said that the choice we face is not between violence and nonviolence, it is between nonviolence and nonexistence.

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