“Why do you like to see someone you love laying there lifeless?,” is one of the many questions that a sixth grade student at Batiste Cultural Arts Academy(BCAA) in New Orleans asks her peers during her poem “Stop the Killing and Give it a Rest.” Around sixteen other students also performed poems like this to an audience of about 63 of their peers during the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) New Orleans’ Poetry for Peace night held in partnership with City Year New Orleans on Feb. 24, 2011.
This visionary sixth grader began her poem by saying that her brother got caught up in the wrong things and almost lost his life because of it, and this was her response to the life and death situation that he faced. Her simple solution to violence was “Let’s just give it a rest.”
The talent of the students at BCAA crossed age limits. Students from kindergarten through eighth grade stood tall and shared their vision of peace and violence. A five year old student brought it all home when he talked about the power of reading and education through his lyrical poem “Read the Book.” He told his peers to “read the book, read that book, I read the book, It’s your turn.” His beautiful declaration of the power of reading was met by a standing ovation from the crowd.
These poetry pieces were presented as an artistic culmination of a week long look at poetry and was the highlight of our Poetry for Peace night. The event also showcased two nonviolence workshops hosted by AFSC’s Peace by Piece Nonviolence Youth Committee and a Peace Recycled Art Class led by Peace by Piece leader Briana O’Neal and AFSC’s Peace Building Community Activist, Ahmane' Glover.
Peace by Piece youth leaders Domonique Triggs and Rose Gilliam led their interactive workshop by discussing the 3 levels of conflict and the 4 types of conflict. The Peace Recycled Art Class showed students how to use recycled products to create peace jewelry that reflected their stance as peace leaders combating violence in their community. Young girls could be seen wearing earrings bearing words like “justice” and young men showed their friends their necklaces’ with words like “share and freedom.” Each student used their voice and body movements to help them explore peace and violence in their artwork.
Poetry for Peace night embraces the power of “the story” and the freedom that our youth feel through telling their stories. It resurrected lost hope and raised new awareness in our community. This event came on the cusp of a weekend where eleven people of color were murdered and three youth were shot in various New Orleans neighborhoods. Poetry for Peace serves as a reminder that: Despite what anyone says, our youth have the power to use art to transform violence.