Youth express compassion through mural art
By Ira Harritt, AFSC Kansas City Area Program Coordinator
The opening program for AFSC's Windows and Mirrors Exhibit at the Johnson County (Kansas) Central Resource Library featured a panel of youth who had worked with other youth to create murals for the exhibit. Each of the young people represented one of the diverse youth programs we had worked with. We had prepared the youth, engaging them in a process of education, discussion and creation of murals on Afghanistan and the war.
At the opening program, though some of the youth were shy and somewhat intimidated speaking in front of an audience, they each made heartfelt presentations of what they had learned and the connections they saw between themselves and Afghan youth 7,000 miles away. Most of the murals they had created - including those entitled Violence Destroys Dreams, United States of Afghanistan, Peaceful Power and Mutual Compassion – portrayed common experiences shared by inner-city youth in the U.S. and youth in Afghanistan.
They had taken their task seriously and were very thoughtful about their comments on the panel. One question posed to one of the youth though gave me pause, a moment to reflect on our peacemaking work. In this work we are hopeful that all of the effort, organizing and education we do has a positive impact on issues of war and peace. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said “The arc of the moral universe is long” and often this work is done on faith.
The question which caused me to hold my breath was to an inner-city Latino teen, one of the older kids in the group. He was asked if he would consider enlisting in the military. After all of his thoughtfulness and all of our work educating him and his peers about the horrors of war, what would he say?
He began by telling us that his father and grandfather were military veterans, that there was something of a family tradition of joining the military. But he concluded he just could not sign up knowing what he did now, about the suffering of the Afghan people. As I let out my breath, I smiled and was glad that sometimes we get a peek of the end of the arc, perhaps not of the whole of the moral universe but at least at a part of it.