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Posts Tagged ‘violence’

Photo: Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor.
Kwesi Billups (right) and volunteers at Project Eden hold homegrown Swiss chard at the greenhouse in Southeast Washington, DC, April 17, 2021. Project Eden distributes its produce, along with donations from the Capital Area Food Bank, at a nearby church.

As many people learned during the pandemic, small, hopeful things can make a big difference in how a person feels. The same is true of neighborhoods. Even in areas characterized by blight and despair, a bunch Swiss chard that people grow together can make them believe that better days are ahead.

Noah Robertson writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Three years ago, when Jevael German received his assignment through Washington’s Summer Youth Employment Program, he wanted nothing to do with it. He would be working with Project Eden, a community garden in the city’s troubled Southeast – known for police sirens much more than produce.

“A Washington native himself, Mr. German dreaded the months of labor in the district’s humidity. He didn’t even like vegetables. While meeting his supervisors on his first day, Mr. German laid his head facedown on the desk. 

“ ‘Sir, if you don’t want to be here, you’re welcome to leave,’ he heard back. ‘But you can’t put your head on the desk.’

“Mr. German stayed, and the summer surprised him. He enjoyed the outdoor work, which reminded him of childhood gardening with his grandmother. As an older member of the summer group, he began mentoring some of his younger co-workers. He even started eating greens. 

“At the program’s end, Mr. German asked to continue with Project Eden for another summer.

After returning, he learned that a former summer employee at the garden had died in a shooting. Mr. German, who was still living with one foot in the streets at that time, saw in that tragic death a version of himself if he didn’t change.

“ ‘Right then and there, I was like, I’ve got to leave the streets alone,’ he says. …

“Almost 10 years ago, Cheryl Gaines, a local pastor, started the garden as a response to the South Capitol Street massacre, one of Washington’s worst mass shootings in decades. Her idea then, as now, was that no community chooses violence when it has another option. Since then Ms. Gaines, her son Kwesi Billups, and hundreds of local employees and volunteers have sought to offer such an option.

“While simultaneously addressing challenges of health, food insecurity, and unemployment, Project Eden is at its roots an alternative. The work is rarely convenient, and resources are often low. But the garden’s legacy is that seeds can grow on what may seem like rocky soil – if only there’s a sower.

“ ‘This garden gives back to you what you give to it,’ says Mr. Billups. 

“In 2012, Ms. Gaines was Project Eden’s sower, though an unlikely one at that. She grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father in public housing outside New Orleans, only to trade that past for a career in law, and later the ministry. While at seminary in Rochester, New York, she had a persistent vision that God was calling her to live in Southeast Washington, begin a church, and plant a community garden. In 2010, after having lived in the Washington area for years, she felt the time had come.

“Leaving four dead and six more injured, the South Capitol Street massacre rattled Southeast, and brought the community together to mourn. At a vigil, Ms. Gaines met the owner of an apartment building just blocks away from the the shooting. In that conversation, she eventually shared her vision. Before long, the owner told her she could use her building’s backyard.

“On that land two years later, Project Eden (‘EDEN’ stands for Everyone Deserves to Eat Naturally) began as a 10-by-20-foot patch of dirt, with only rows of tilled soil. The next year Ms. Gaines and her team turned that plot into a 28-by-48-foot greenhouse, complete with aquaponics, and have since expanded to another location at nearby Faith Presbyterian Church.

“A community garden may seem like a boutique project in some areas, but not in Southeast, says Caroline Brewer, director of marketing and communications at the Audubon Naturalist Society, which recently named Mr. Billups its yearly Taking Nature Black youth environmental champion. …

“ ‘When people have opportunities to give back … that allows them to grow and develop and mature and make [an] even greater contribution to their families and their communities,’ says Ms. Brewer.

“Project Eden isn’t just resisting material challenges of nutrition and income, says Ms. Brewer. It’s helping the community resist despair. ‘It’s a constant battle,’ she says, ‘and they’re winning that battle.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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The Louis D. Brown Peace Walk in Boston has been supporting survivors of violent crime for a quarter century.

The nonprofit’s concern is for the people who are left behind after a violent death — the mothers, the fathers, the children, the siblings, the classmates, the communities. Sometimes the ongoing needs of these survivors get lost. In Boston, some of the bereaved families have banded together to help others heal. They have taken the lead in standing against violence and have invited residents of the Greater Boston area to join them. Nonprofit groups, churches, mosques, synagogues, and individuals arrive from the suburbs in droves.

Here are a few photos from this year’s walk, which is always held on Mother’s Day.

I loved the band that played outside Madison Park High School, where our group joined the walk. Some people carried signs. Lots of people chanted peace slogans. We passed by a mural of the great Frederick Douglass in Roxbury.

If one or two people were to walk down Tremont Street on a rainy Sunday morning, no one would notice. When many hundreds do, it’s an event.

But other than raise funds for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute outreach, which is valuable, does this help prevent violence? There are still homicides in Boston. But the huge gathering seems to generate an indefinable energy and awareness that sometimes leads individuals to wage peace in their own ways throughout the year.

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Dan Holin, who used to run a Concord-Lowell volunteer partnership called the Jericho Road Project, is now director of special projects at UTEC in Lowell. (UTEC doesn’t use the longer title its youth founders originally came up with, but since people ask, it was United Teen Equality Center.)

UTEC describes itself as a nonprofit that “helps young people from Lowell and Lawrence, Mass., trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. It works to remove barriers that confront them when they want to turn their lives around and offers young people paid work experience through its social enterprises: mattress recycling, food services and woodworking.”

On May 15, Acton’s Pedal Power joined members of the Concord-based Monsters in the Basement bicycling club to share their bike-repair expertise with young people who wanted to acquire bikes and learn to maintain them. Holin, a serious biker himself, organized the event to give UTEC young people two things that he said they normally lack: transportation and fun.

At the event, one of them, Sav, recounted his story of change. Before UTEC I never talked to anyone,” he said. “I was a problem child on the streets. I was hanging around with gangs, selling drugs. I don’t do that now. Seven months ago, I moved from a place with nothing positive. Atlantic City. I let my family know I’m ready to live life. It was hard for me to get into something good: I’ve got a lot of tattoos and a record. But I’m in the culinary program here. It’s a family. They make you feel like you are somebody that has a chance. They give me love like a family. They changed my life for the better. There are so many new things to do here. Yesterday I went kayaking.”

More here.

Sav, in sunglasses, got a good bike at UTEC’s bike event in Lowell on May 15. The bike will provide transportation to his job at UTEC. It will also provide some much needed fun.

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