As a young man in Chicago, I can tell you that sometimes, being listened to is all you need. It can open the door to a whole new way of being.
In elementary school I got bullied a lot. When I came into high school I didn’t want to go through that again, so I made myself a loner. The Peace Warriors helped me break through that isolation.
At first, I just joined Peace Warriors for the t-shirt. But soon it went deeper than that. Peace Warriors has a real sense of a family structure. I got to the point where I could go to any Peace Warrior about my problems and they would listen to me.
In Peace Warriors, I learned how to defuse a stressful situation by making a joke so that someone under stress could take a step back before they acted out violently. I learned how to be there for others, like me, who have faced bullets and lost loved ones to violence. I learned how to wait, how to calm myself down and how not to let people irritate me. Most importantly, Peace Warriors came through for me in my time of deepest trouble.
My Beloved Community Helped Me Walk Away from Violence
I have been impacted by gun violence a lot. The most recent incident was the death of my nephew, who was shot in 2017, two weeks after his 16th birthday.
He was outside with his girlfriend. A car had circled the block all day. Then they heard shots. He pushed his girlfriend in the house. In a panic, he ran toward the bullets and he was shot twice.
The day I lost my nephew was a huge turning point in my life. I started doing a lot of bad things, hanging around a bad crowd. I started to really give up.
But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it: “The beloved community is the framework for the future.”
Through my friends and colleagues, I found help to come out of a dark place. I was lucky to have a beloved community and a support system that helped me walk away when I could have chosen to retaliate.
Thanks to them, I made a different choice. Instead of becoming part of the problem, I chose to stay committed to supporting my community. I know that a lot of other people out here don’t have that same support. If I can be that support, it’s possible I could save a lot of lives just by listening and understanding what people in my community are going through.
Last summer, in the wake of my nephew’s death, I chose to train other young people in the principles of Kingian nonviolence. For six weeks, we Peace Warriors gave weeklong trainings to other young people in North Lawndale to help them understand more about how violence and trauma affect people’s thinking and behavior, and how to help them make better choices. At the end of each training, our students had to teach us as if we knew nothing about the subject.
In My Neighborhood People Are Eager to Stop Violence
In my neighborhood, people are hungry for this information. We had about 25 people at our first training, and 75 at our second. The groups got so big we had to cut them in half. We know that people who came to our trainings passed on what they learned to friends and family members, too.
Peace Warriors has given me a voice, too. Because I used to be picked on, I used to be quiet. I didn’t want to be seen. But now I’m the energizer. Everybody sees me in the room. They know I’m there.
With that came the power to intervene. I can jump into any situation now. I see domestic violence a lot in this community. I have the courage now to say “Hey, stop that! That’s not right!” I know my words actually matter and what I say can actually have an effect.
Soon, students like me will be taking our message of peace and nonviolence all across the country, starting with a Peace March in Chicago, at St. Sabina’s Church on Friday, June 15. I’ll be speaking about the resources our schools and communities need, like jobs and mental health services, to put an end to violence. We’ll also be speaking about the nationwide solutions we need to the national problem of gun violence.
I hope you’ll be listening and taking action with me and other young people to create beloved and peaceful communities across the United States.
This post originally appeared at Education Post as It’s Time to End Violence and Create Beloved Communities.