June 15, 2017 | by Tom Golebiewski
The Power of Peace
On the second day of the school year, a freshman student named Tasha* was sent to the Umoja Peace Room after engaging in a verbal altercation with a peer. This conflict began in a classroom and carried over into the cafeteria where security had to intervene. In the Peace Room, Tasha talked about the many struggles she has faced in life and agreed to have a Peace Circle with the young lady she was in conflict with. Through face-to-face dialogue both students were able to discuss the altercation and gain a better understanding of the other person's point of view - not only were they able to resolve their differences, but the girls have maintained a strong friendship to this day. Throughout the first semester, Tasha was a frequent visitor to the Peace Room. Initially, these visits were ‘reactive’ after a conflict had already taken place. Soon, Tasha began to seek out Peace Room services in a ‘proactive’ manner, to develop conflict resolution strategies and solve problems before they occurred.
In November, twin brothers from Tasha’s neighborhood were murdered in a drive-by shooting. This was not the first time that Tasha lost loved ones to gun violence, but she felt the deep impact of having two friends taken away at the same time. The day after the shooting, Tasha came to the Peace Room and opened up about the sadness and anger she was experiencing - and in that moment she decided that "You can't be a fighter and a peacemaker at the same time" and stated that she wanted to "work for peace in her community."
Tasha took a tragic event and used it as a catalyst for positive change. She began to organize a "Put the Guns Down" Anti-Violence Rally for her high school and the greater community. She worked alongside students and adult stakeholders at the school, police officers, and community leaders to organize the event. On May 17, the Peace Rally took place in the public courtyard outside of the high school, and hundreds of people from the school and neighborhood gathered to listen and learn. The rally was a lively event which allowed singers, poets, and speakers to channel their experiences with violence into powerful messages of peace, love, and solidarity. It was truly inspiring to see the growth that Tasha was able to make over the past school year, and she is already starting to work on the plans for next year’s Peace Rally!
*Name has been changed