Peacemaker Fridays: October 14, 2016

Meditation, not detention in Baltimore schools; Minnesota communities unite to find healing; and global poverty on the decline (no, really).

Here are the week’s best stories of people reaching across enemy lines, loving the other, and waging peace…

Meditation, not detention: a new approach to discipline in Baltimore schools

After graduating college, brothers Atman and Ali Smith and their friend Andres Gonzalez returned to their home in west Baltimore and were dismayed at what they found. Boarded up houses, open drug markets, gang violence, a general lack of community. It broke their hearts.

So in 2001, they founded the Holistic Life Foundation and set to work. Through their foundation, they piloted a new approach to discipline in a local elementary school: meditation instead of detention.

The program teaches yoga, relaxation, conflict resolution, and self-control techniques. Teachers have noted fewer fights, fewer detentions, more positive ways of dealing with conflict, and, this past year, zero suspensions.

The program doesn’t just teach kids to slow down and breathe. “One of the biggest parts of what we do, beyond the actual techniques and practices, is being present for the kids,” explains Gonzalez.

Ali Smith agrees, noting that the most powerful factor is not the techniques used. “One of the major goals… is to embody love, spread love, and make it ok for people to say ‘I love you’ to each other,” he said. Read more…

“Love is the most powerful force in the universe… that is how you really change a community.”
   – Ali Smith


Investing in relationship to help a Minnesota community heal

Reaching out across enemy lines, particularly in our current climate of division, is hard work. It can be especially frustrating and discouraging when it feels like nothing changes. But recent events in a small Minnesota town prove that while the work of love is slow, it is never fruitless.

Following the recent stabbings in a St. Cloud shopping mall by Somali immigrant Dahir Adan, the community braced for a backlash. But interfaith leaders didn’t hunker down and try to wait out the storm; instead, they set to work. In fact, they had done so long before the tragic incident. Thanks to two years of Christian-Muslim dialogue and relationship-building, a solid foundation was already established between communities.

“Before this [mall stabbing], we learned to laugh with each other, to eat each other’s food that came out of our own kitchens,” says Kathy Langer of Catholic Charities. “Because of this, we could move into this [new discussion due to the mall stabbing] with respect.”

Less than a week after the stabbings, approximately 300 people—Somali families and members of various Christian communities—filled St. Joseph’s Catholic church to listen, talk, and learn.

“The reception was awesome,” said Vince De Vargass, the event’s organizer. “People found the Somalis jolly, cheerful and talkative. It was not expected in the minds of a lot of people, but they really enjoyed meeting their neighbors.” Read more…


Surprise! Global poverty is declining.

9 out of 10 Americans think global poverty has gotten worse or stayed the same.

Sounds about right.

Or not.

Global poverty, in fact, dropped by half over the last few decades. In 1981, 44% of the worldwide population lived in extreme poverty. Today that figure is less than 10%.

And there’s more. Six million fewer kids die each year than just twenty years ago. Global inequity is declining, as well; 85% of adults worldwide are literate—the highest at any time in human history.

We are acutely aware that suffering and pain and war and poverty and inequality continue to unmake our world—and must be addressed with urgency. But first, as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof suggests, “Let’s pause for a nanosecond of silence to acknowledge the greatest gains in human well-being in the history of our species—not to inspire complacency, but rather to spur our efforts to accelerate what may be the most important trend in the world today.” Read more…


Do you have a story to share? We would love to hear how you and your community are waging peace right where you are. And stay tuned for more hope-filled peacemaker stories next Friday!