Promoting Peace Through the Power of Words
By Suzanne Brown, Internet Reporter
Louis David Brown, 15, was concerned about the effects of violence in his community. He hoped learning about the problems in his neighborhood and trying to solve them would help make him the first black president.
But on December 20, 1993, his dreams were cut short when he was murdered on the streets he wanted to save.
One year later, the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute was created as a "visual memorial" to Brown and his dedication to preventing violence. Joseph and Clementina Chery, Brown's parents and founders of the Peace Institute, have developed a number of programs that encourage young people living in and around Boston to promote peace within their communities.
"Our objective is to help kids understand the values of peace and identify who and what a peacemaker is," said Joseph Chery, President of the Peace Institute. Conceived as the most effective way to tell Brown's story, the Peace Curriculum is currently used in 13 Boston area schools, with more than 1800 students learning about Brown's life each year. During the program's development, the Cherys worked with a number of educators to consider whether telling their son's story was really all they wanted to do. A number of "key lessons" emerged from those discussions, Chery said, "and the lessons culminate into peace making."
Students in Every Grade Learn to Make Peace
The Peace Curriculum uses a set of teaching guides designed around age appropriate books such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Teacup Full of Roses by Sharon Bell Mathis to promote discussion about the concepts of peace and peacemaking. According to Chery, the lessons draw a parallel from what is happening in the book to student's own lives.
The program is divided into three sets of curricula and is often incorporated into English classes from kindergarten to high school. Students on every level read about Brown's story and a selected novel related to the curriculum. Through analysis and discussion of the characters and themes in the book, they explore ways to act peacefully when confronted with violence or tension in their respective neighborhoods.
Peacemakers ABC's, the elementary school curriculum focuses on the power of words at a time when kids are developing a sense of their relationship with language, Chery said. The curriculum fosters conscious awareness of peaceful words among students as well as adults within the schools. Everyone, from the children, to the teachers, administrators and cafeteria workers, is encouraged to make an effort to find alternative words to those with a negative or violent connotation, according to Chery.
Lessons at the middle school level focus on the actions necessary to make peace. Students learn through service within their school or another controlled environment.
High school students learn to promote peace through community service by writing or volunteering at a nursing home or school. There is a lot of reading, discussion, "journal entries" and writing in the high school curriculum, Chery said.
These students are asked to write essays in order to demonstrate their insight and understanding of peace making. The essays, which focus on the role students' play or intend to play in the effort to promote peace, are submitted to the Peace Institute. Each year, selected works are published in a new volume of Boston's Book of Peace, which is circulated to educators, civic leaders and parents throughout the country. The 30 students whose essays are selected are honored as Peace Fellows, or ambassadors of peace in their community.
Peacemakers Speak the Same Language
In 1998, with the help of Nelson Foundation and Harvard University, the Peace Institute developed and implemented "Peace Zone," a program that targets elementary schools and complements the kindergarten through fifth grade curriculum. According to Chery, "the objective is to focus on developing a peaceful culture where everyone uses a common language." Trigger words are used to correct, reinforce and acknowledge behaviors in academic work."
The program has been very successful, he said, adding, "an evaluation shows some great improvement among students and their cognitive knowledge about violence and peace."
Chery suggests that when people know how to talk to one another it is unlikely that a disagreement will escalate to a physical fight.
"Language is structured in a way that there are words for every emotion we feel and experience. We have enough words to express ourselves," he said. "When we use words inappropriately it leads to violence."
The Peace Institute hopes to teach children how to harness the positive power of language in order to put an end to violence.
"There certainly is a great emphasis on violence prevention," Chery said, "and that effort has taught us a lot about young people and the social ills fueling violence ... the best lesson is that violence is preventable."
The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute
The Peace Institute sponsors a number of community based initiatives and fundraisers to help maintain their services to victims and survivors of violence. A Mother's Walk for Peace helps fund the Peace Program. To learn more go to http://www.peacewalkboston.com/
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