Building Peaceful Communities and Neighborhoods

Moderator: Maryse Richards – Professor, Department of Psychology (Loyola)
Chicago, with its long history of gangs and violence, has maintained its national and international reputation as one of more violent cities of the developed world.  Although national attention has been riveted by the recent massacres of innocent children, violent deaths claim innocent lives, while lesser forms of violence create emotional havoc, every day in the isolated, poor communities of our great city with little attention paid.  Most recently, Hadiya Pendleton has come to represent this intractable and pernicious urban and racialized public health problem.
Indira Freitas Johnson – Artist, Changing Worlds and Ten Thousand Ripples project
Award-winning artist and nonviolence and peace educator Indira Freitas Johnson has exhibited her work nationally and internationally. Johnson’s passion to make art part of everyday life and to involve local communities in the art process is evident in all her work. Her work explores an array of social issues, which include the cultural dimension of domestic violence, leprosy health education, labor, the environment, gender, peace, nonviolence, and literacy.  Ten Thousand Ripples (TTR) is a collaborative public art, civic engagement and peace project. At the center of TTR are 100 fiberglass and resin Buddha sculptures designed by Johnson and installed in sites in 10 Chicago area neighborhoods.  Through TTR, artists, neighborhood leaders, and residents are at the heart of community-driven planning and public involvement efforts.  Johnson’s project uses art as a catalyst to foster dialogue about peace and non-violence and create innovative solutions to address contemporary social issues. ; see also the recent feature article on Johnson and TTR in the Christian Science Monitor.
Shelley Williams – CeaseFire Organization
CeaseFire, a Chicago based violence prevention program, intervenes in crises, mediates disputes between individuals, and intercedes in group disputes to prevent violent events. Focused on reducing gang interest and creating greater positive engagement with the community, the organization sees violence from a public health perspective and considers it a disease which they need to interrupt from being transmitted. Though originally targeted towards older adolescents and young adults (15-22 year olds), CeaseFire’s work has started to address younger adolescents. In collaboration with Loyola University, they have added a mentoring component to their organization to involve high school and college aged youth from Englewood, who they identify as credible messengers to foster change in younger adolescents’ lives. This mentor relationship will hopefully contribute to the positive growth of both the mentors and mentored youth.
Andrew Perrotte – Loyola Psychology student, Provost Fellow, Peace Circles project
Restorative justice is an ancient human tradition, and its strategies have been used for thousands of years by indigenous tribes and communities. Its aim is not to persecute or blame, but to restore and repair any harm done to the harmonious relationships between people. Over time, many societies have constructed a punitive justice system that is incapable of creating and sustaining peace. Peacemaking Circles are one of the main tools of restorative justice in practice, and their success is supported by advancements and findings in psychology, neuroscience and quantum physics. Chicago, with its   many neighborhoods that suffer from daily violence, has engaged this form of peacemaking. Circles can create a safe environment for members affected by violence to hold difficult conversations that promote healing and collaboration.