It’s a cruel irony that 15-year-old Louis Brown was on his way to a Christmas party of the group Teens Against Gang Violence when he was caught in a gun fight and killed fourteen years ago. His parents, Joseph and Tina Chery, founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute the following year to continue their son’s efforts to reduce violence in their urban Massachusetts community.
The Peace Institute’s range of programs offer support for other survivors (including trainings in navigating the criminal justice system) and initiatives to prevent further violence. They’ve developed a peace curriculum and a training for teachers who want to use it. Along with several other groups, the Peace Institute sponsors an event called The National Conference for Survivors of Violence, at which survivors and professionals meet to shape policies that support survivors of violence and violence prevention programs.
It’s particularly interesting to see how the Peace Institute’s work so often involves bringing people together from different experiences and perspectives. “Across the Generations Circles” bring together young men who have participated in violence and their mothers, so they can talk and begin the healing process. “Truth and Reconciliation Circles” bring together survivors of homicide victims with young people and families whose loved ones have been incarcerated or deported as a result of violent actions.
And, in the past couple of years, Tina Chery has gotten involved with the Unity Outreach Group, which is composed of current and former gang members trying to move away from violence and toward more positive action:
"I used to want all people like him dead," Tina Chery says, her gaze set on 27-year-old Mario Rodrigues. "I would have pulled the trigger myself."
Instead, the two have begun working together - she with victims of homicide, he with former and current gang members - to reduce violence by generating dialogue and fostering self-esteem in the community. "Now he is where I find hope," Ms. Chery says.
Their partnership, called the Unity Outreach Group, comes at a time in Boston when the homicide rate is the highest it has been in nearly a decade, with 63 murders reported this year. Police attribute the spike, in part, to gang activity. And from proposing tougher punishments against intimidation to securing more anticrime resources, authorities here have scrambled to stem the wave of violence. But experts also see a key role for programs that focus on the causes of violence and that enlist the community in healing itself. Efforts such as Unity Outreach Group – part of a burgeoning "restorative justice" movement across the country – may help end cycles of gang violence where tougher punishments alone do not.
Read the rest of the Christian Science Monitor article about the Unity Outreach Group here.