New Orleans is a city plagued by violence, but it is also one that loves beauty, celebrates courage and generosity, and likes to show a genuine appreciation for fun and life.

So just weeks after Hurricane Isaac swept through their neighborhoods, young people filled New Orleans with colorful puppets, lively dances, and hopeful voices as they marched in the American Friends Service Committee's (AFSC) third annual Peace is Power Giant Puppet Parade.

That morning, volunteers gathered on Duncan Plaza, a historic site for organizers because it sits right in front of City Hall.

Among them was Erick Dillard, a Dillard University freshman, who started interning with AFSC because he wants to create new, positive opportunities in a community where young people are exposed to excessive violence.

“We have to build community before we can try to influence the culture,” he says. “Activities like this parade challenge young people to get involved, to do more, and to see that positive activities can be fun.”

Over 250 people attended the parade. Many community groups participated, renewing their pledge to creating a nonviolent environment for young people in New Orleans. The atmosphere was festive with face painting, arts and crafts, music and a talent showcase kick-off event. 

“It is beautiful to see so many young people marching for peace and creating an air of positivity,” said Tian Covington, a Loyola University volunteer.

Ahmané Glover, community activist with AFSC, taught parade participants a dance—the Dignity Bounce—and chants to use while marching through the city.

One part of the dance called for people to, “Shake, shake, shake the negativity off, off, off.” It was a public cry promoting AFSC values in a fun and energizing way.

Ahmané started the AFSC-sponsored puppet parade three years ago as a way to use recycled materials to promote a culture of peace after the BP oil spill, but it has turned into much more. It is an opportunity for AFSC partners to gather, celebrate, and be visible in the wider community.

It’s also a way to make peace fun and powerful and get young people excited about the more concrete nonviolence training that the New Orleans Peace Project conducts. The event resonates in a culture dedicated to the art of parading.

The Peace is Power Giant Puppet Parade is just one of AFSC’s responses to the unique needs of the New Orleans community. Such activities have become great recruitment tools for the Peace by Piece Nonviolence Youth Group; Erick learned about the Service Committee through volunteering at its Oppression Fashion Show.

Through such events people see that AFSC is a positive, lasting force for change in a city that is plagued by nonprofits that are present one day, and gone the next—and they want to get involved.