Several hundred youth assembled for an afternoon of peace at Austin Town Hall Park as part of the city’s “Peace In The Parks” event taking place last month.
Neighborhood parks around Chicago hosted the summer youth program, co-sponsored by the Chicago Park District and Chicago Peace Movement, a coalition of various foundations and nonprofits.
“We came together to denounce violence and to promote peace in our communities in spite of the killings that’s be going on,” said Ayesa Jaco, coordinator of the Aug. 1 Austin event. “We are creating a free, safe, artistic space in the community for young people to come together to express themselves.”
The Chicago Peace Movement is comprised, in part, of the Lupie Fiasco Foundation, True Star Media and The Black Youth Project.
The highly-energized Austin event took place on the Central Avenue lawn just outside Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake. Members of the city’s After School Matters performing arts programs for youth provided entertainment. Scattered through the park were groups of students laughing, talking and working together, rehearsing and anxiously waiting to perform. Spoken word, dance and rap highlighted the performances.
The youth also talked about how they’re achieving peace in their community.
“I’m a peacemaker,” Dontai Marcus said. “If I see a conflict about to start, I try to mediate it and calm people down. I try to get them to talk about whatever they are arguing about.”
Youth dancer Destiny Thomas said when she sees a problem, she’ll look at the person and say, ‘we already have a lot of violence in the world, so what can we do to help change the world?'”
Jaco hoped that the students took something positive away from participating.
“What I hope the students take away from this event is more positivity and encouragement to express themselves in a peaceful positive light; and when things get tough for them, that they will go to the same outlets that they’re going to be using today, which is spoken word, dance, rap,” Jaco, who’s also a lead dance instructor with After School Matters, said.
For the students who didn’t perform, or for those who didn’t attend the event, Jaco hopes they will “get inspired and get involved” too.
Diana Muhammad, co-instructor of Move Me Soul dance troupe out of After School Matters, added: “The best thing about this event is the theme; that everybody is coming together to perform for the sake of peace. We are all out here in the park on a typical summer day, and we’re all out here for the sake of peace.”
Other performing groups at the event included M.A.D.D. Rhythms, a unique tap dance troupe, and West Side Story/AfriCarribbean Connection, a cultural dance troupe. The troupe’s instructor, Vickie Casanova, said it’s good that youth got together in a peaceful way.
“What I hope the students will literally take away from this experience is the knowledge of all the wonderful arts and culture there is right here in our community,” she said.