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Lions Roar : May 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2011 40 as well, she also feels that restorative justice is essential for the inner city. “i’ve been attending a healing circle for people who are victims of black-on-black shootings,” she said. “like me, they’re all african american, but unlike me, they have all lost a family member to gun violence. i’m honored to be welcomed there. this insane level of violence stems from education disparity, lack of op- portunity, poor mental health care. vindictiveness will not stop it. what people do in a circle like this can heal individual wounds but it can also increase the fellow feeling that we need to reduce intracommunity violence. the people in this group do not sup- port tough-on-crime positions, as you might expect. they see the perpetrator not only as a wrongdoer to be shunned, but as a mem- ber of the community to be brought back into the fold.” earl beSt iS a Soldier of Peace. and he will be sharing with people at the peace summit his experience of the meeting place between inner and outer peace. known in newark as the Street doctor, best doesn’t go in for activism that involves a lot of paper and lengthy grant proposals and 501(c)(3) status. “i just go out into the streets seven days a week and i feed people who need to be fed,” he said. “i know where they live. i know they’re hungry. i bring them food.” best was imprisoned for seventeen years for bank robbery, and spent ten of those years in solitary confinement. during the in- terminable stretches of time alone, best searched his soul. he read gandhi, king, the dalai lama, and studied psychology and law. he had to teach himself what he had not been taught in his time on the streets. in solitary, best told me, “i asked god if he would bless me with release and help me help others if i prom- ised to change my former ways. i have kept my word. i wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives because no one made a difference in mine.” best became a well-known figure in newark not long after his release in 2000, and by 2003 he had founded the Street warriors, with the aim of helping people who are on the streets and helping to get people off the streets. getting enough resources and managing an organization has been a struggle. he established a center for the Street warriors a few years ago, but lost it for lack of sustained funding. So for the most part he does what he does best: direct action. instead of a building, he has a van—an unsolicited gift from an admir- er—and each day he fills it with blankets and food, donated by restaurants and stores or bought by him with proceeds from speaking engagements or small cash donations. when he shows up—at newark Penn Station, at an abandoned building, at a gas station where people panhandle—he doesn’t just drop off the food. “i stay and hang out and eat with them,” he said. “i’m not there to give them a handout, a withdrawal from the bank. i’m there to give them the hook-up. that’s what the dalai lama does. he gives people the hook-up. that’s why i’m so happy to speak at this conference with him. it’s about bringing people peace, helping them find their peace. Peace is about being relaxed, and you know what, food relaxes people. i don’t see people frowning when they eat. food is peace.” food, though, is not always something you put in your stom- ach, best said, explaining the other major part of his street ministry. “there’s also food for the mind and for the heart,” he said. “i go into the prisons and the juvenile halls, into the grade schools and the high schools, and i give those kids a different type of food. i give them food for thought.” i asked why hardened street kids would listen to upbeat messa- ges. Sometimes they don’t, he acknowledged, but if you want them to listen you’ve got to do a few things. “for one,” he said, “you’ve got to use a lot of humor. when you get people laughing, you’re bringing them peace, and then they can listen better. also, you’ve got to flip the script. if they’re about violence, i show them how in my own life i took the energy i put into violence and put it into peace. i let them know that in any given moment they can make a different choice. you’ve also got to be there for them. i give these kids my cell number, and i tell them i want to be the person they call before they are about to do something bad. “this is not a job. it’s a mission. every city in america needs a street doctor. yeah, we got food banks and other walk-in pro- grams, but you have got to go out to people where they live and show them the example of how you can be.” everyone i SPoke with would like to see training in peace happen as early in life as possible. that was the inspiration for Mindful Schools, founded in oakland in 2007 by laurie gross- man, richard Shankman, and Megan cowan, who serves as executive director of its programs. in its first three years, Mindful Schools has taught its in-class program in thirty-eight schools. the current curriculum includes fifteen lessons that are general- Earl Best (right) and friends with the Street Doctor van in Newark. PhotocourteSyoftheStreetdoctor