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Youth-painted ‘peace doves’ take flight in Hub

Yawu Miller | 1/6/2009, 9:14 a.m.

As a spate of recent shootings has many fearing a bloody summer in Boston, anti-violence activists are renewing their efforts to push for peace.

“Peace is in the air,” said activist Tina Chéry, standing on the steps of the Mary E. Curley Middle School in Jamaica Plain while a trio of teenagers working for the Hyde Square Task Force painted a white dove on the front steps.

“This is what the people of Boston — the everyday people — believe in,” said Chéry, who heads the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. “We all have peace within us.”

The dove is one of a dozen that the Task Force teens are painting around Jamaica Plain as part of a citywide effort to promote peace. Activists yesterday declared May “Peace Month” for the second straight year in a ceremony at the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center.

For the task force teens, many of whom are struggling to come to terms with a series of killings in their neighborhood, the peace symbols provide a tangible way to deal with the tragedies of young friends gunned down.

“A lot of the youth here have friends who are involved in violence or are victims of violence,” said Ashley Cotton, a community organizer with the Task Force. “The violence has motivated us to do more.”

Teens working with the Task Force’s Community Development Artists contacted public artist Sidewalk Sam in February, just one month after Carlos Sierra, a youth involved with the organization, was fatally shot while walking home from a convenience store.

Sidewalk Sam, who has been painting the doves since last summer, agreed to work with the Task Force youth.

While the Task Force picked the Curley School to host the press conference announcing the artwork, others painted by their Community Development Artists appear on street corners throughout the neighborhood.

“We picked locations where youth get together with other youth,” said Stefanie Baez, a 17-year-old student at Snowden International School who works with the Task Force. “I think people will see the doves and it will make people think. It could just help one person. If it does, it would be worth it.”

The Community Development Artists’ initiative is one component of a multi-pronged approach the Task Force and other community-based organizations are using in efforts to combat youth violence. The Task Force is also calling on elected officials to increase funding in the state budget for anti-violence and youth initiatives, including the Shannon grants and After-School and Out-of-School Time Quality Grant funds.

In other efforts, City Councilor Chuck Turner has led a delegation of community activists to meet with prison activists serving time in the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater.

“We’re looking at what men on the inside can do to help,” Turner said. “They have relationships with family members and friends on the outside.”

Turner, Minister Don Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Teen Empowerment Executive Director Stanley Pollack and representatives from the offices of other elected officials met with the inmates in 2006.

This year, Teen Empowerment activists made a film, entitled “Voices from Behind the Wall,” telling the stories of several inmates at Old Colony, including Anthony Warren, who plead guilty to shooting and paralyzing a 3-year-old girl in 2004. The girl, Kai Leigh Harriott, who is now 7, also appears in the film, which will be shown at the group’s annual Peace Conference on May 10.

Closer to home, Turner is continuing to hold monthly meetings at the Twelfth Baptist Church centered around an anti-violence pledge.

Asked about the dove symbols being painted in Hyde Square and elsewhere in the city, Turner said any effort to promote peace could be helpful.

“Community organizers don’t think enough about symbols, how they touch people and create actions,” he said. “The dove is a universal symbol for peace. I think it makes sense. It could trigger reactions in young people by spreading a message of peace. It’s one of a number of approaches we need to look at.”

At the Task Force event last week, the peace symbol was an approach that worked for Tina Chéry.

“Summer is coming and everyone is preparing for violence,” she said. “But we’re preparing for peace. Peace is possible.”