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Lions Roar : May 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2011 34 a S you venture into the core of any city in america, there’s always an area—or two or three or four or five—where the housing stock is not so good, where vacant lots are strewn with debris, where public high-rises loom over concrete plazas or courtyards of dirt, where clutches of young men hang out idly on street cor- ners, where sirens punctuate the soundscape, where there are corner stores aplenty but few supermarkets, where whole blocks contain rotting hulks in which homeless women and men squat, carrying their lives in shopping carts. Some of these districts are infamous: bedford-Stuyvesant in brooklyn, compton in l.a., Southside chi- cago, east St. louis, South Philly, north Miami. and in some cases, virtually whole cities, like newark in new Jersey or oakland in cali- fornia, seem to bear the mark of underprivilege, where the glittering modern economy is hard to find. together, these urban areas are home to millions of people in the united States, and vast enough to constitute a country of their own. Most of us avert our eyes. Some people go there to make peace. how can we cultivate peace on the front lines of america—the hard neighborhoods that are only miles, sometimes mere blocks, from some of the most affluent addresses on the planet—where lack of opportunity goes hand in hand with violence? in every one of these inner city neighborhoods there are inspiring people who spend their days and nights trying to address that question. they are working in schools, in juvenile detention halls, in housing pro- jects, on the streets where the homeless hang out, even in city hall. they are urban peacemakers. for them, peace begins at home. when we think of making peace, we tend to think first of world peace. the peace sign, for example, recalls the antiwar movement, but a new meaning for peace activism has been de- veloping. it’s about bringing peace to the front lines within your immediate surroundings—your neighborhood, your commun- ity, your city, your country—and in the hearts of the people who live there. the heroes mentioned most by people in this peace movement are, not surprisingly, Mahatma gandhi and Martin luther king Jr., for whom peace within the heart was the source of creating genuine peace in the world. gandhi’s ethic of being the change you seek is the rallying cry for many who feel that, as oakland activist brenda Salgado put it to me, “your head needs to align with your heart.” king’s admonition to bring together love and power inspires people like ali Smith, the baltimore ac- tivist who told me, “if i can be a more holistic, well-rounded, loving, and peaceful person, that’s what will make me the most powerful in helping other people.” Children at a low-income Oakland school practicing mindfulness of breathing. PhotocourteSyofMindfulSchoolS