Such a lovely sounding word. A beautiful and comforting concept. Something with far more importance and impact than its humble monosyllabic construct would indicate. Yet its simplicity is fitting.
It seems hard to fathom that there would be anyone living that wouldn’t want peace; that wouldn’t do all they could to help achieve a peaceful world and peace of mind. It seems so obvious and simple.
Obtaining peace should be a loftier goal than making more money, gaining more power, or achieving more fame. Yet our resources and efforts are funneled toward these toxic pursuits. The result is fear, revenge, and hatred. Greed, lack of education, lack of sympathy, lack of empathy, lack of proper mental and physical health, lack of understanding, and lack of communication, leaves us in a world that is at unrest. It’s not a new tale. This has been the case since time immemorial. A chasm of despair, sadness, and rage that seems to leave peace desperately isolated on the other side of the divide. It’s so confusing and complicated.
And yet, for as long as there has been this dissension, there have been people rising up and collectively using their voices to speak for the oppressed. Those who try to change a system that has gone off the rails and no longer benefits those who live under its regime. People that attempt to communicate the needs and the rights of all people, not just a select few. Those who create a bridge across the chasm in order to find peace and try to help those among us who just don’t get it so they can better understand that everyone benefits in a world of equality and justice.
Alone, it is hard to stand up for what is right, especially when so many obstacles are in place trying to keep things “they way they are.” It’s hard to make voices heard when those in opposition seem to have the means to block every attempt. They use lies, fear, exploitation, and excuses as a first line of defense for their exploitation. Then, when that fails them, they resort to the weapons and violence they’ve taught us to fear. Oppressing people who want peace and tricking them into believing they have to literally fight for it. It’s perverse. How do you face such a contradiction? How do you find a way to be heard? How do you get help? How do you find peace?
Just an hour east of Charlottesville, Virginia, where humanity displayed its worst qualities, lies Richmond. The ghosts and uncomfortable truths of our nations violent history and racial issues haunt the streets of this historic and beautiful city, which is also home to the Richmond Peace Education Center (RPEC). A place that has served as a sanctuary and training ground for the last 25 years. It’s a hub of peaceful protests, education, workshops, and conflict resolution programs, while giving a voice to the youth who, untainted by cynicism, have so much to say about peace and how they would like to influence the future.
Eleven months into our trip across the United States, and the people we meet still never fail to inspire and teach us. While helping setup for a fund raiser, the stories we heard from volunteers, staff members, advocates, and others served as reminder of why we set out on this journey.
We were able to hear firsthand accounts of the peaceful actions RPEC is doing in their community to promote change. Actions that ripple across the country. Just one month after the hate, vitriol, and violence that consumed the streets of Charlottesville in August of 2017, the same ignorant lost souls that caused so much pain had set their sites on Richmond. However, the people that gathered for the Richmond Stands United for Racial Justice rally far outnumbered those that wasted everyone’s time with their farcical “Heritage not Hate” rally. Their ilk was overshadowed by peace and unity. The Unity March was organized by several groups rooted in Richmond, including RPEC. It was a peaceful yet powerful response to the hate groups that attempt to claim that it is history and heritage they are trying to preserve. We heard from those that bravely stood up to this antiquated and regressive message, and instead called it out for what it actually is: A heritage of hate and division. The Confederate monuments that stand in Richmond, across so much of the south, and confoundingly much of the rest of the nation, are only honoring those who valued oppression and subjugation. Traitors that, quite frankly, lost. Through the actions of RPEC and the other organizations that brought people from all backgrounds, ages, and races together, their voices were able to be heard loud and clear. The people of Richmond, and our nation, are moving towards equality and striving for peace.
Albert Einstein once stated that, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” At the Richmond Peace Education Center they are turning these messages into action, and both the messages and actions are spreading across cities, states, nations, and the perceived chasms that separate them. It is when I am in the presence of architects of peace like the wonderful people in Richmond that I can start to see the abutments of more bridgework starting to be laid.