Many commentators and pundits have remarked at the poetic irony of 8-year-old Martin Richard’s handmade sign- “No more hurting people… Peace,” the President even quoting the young man in his memorial remarks. This has seemed prophetic to some, and empty platitudes about how we should all live this young man’s example have abounded from mainstream media. I’ve felt something else though- familiarity. People seemed genuinely struck by the coincidence. This young man, taken away from his family, friends and community calling for an end to this senseless violence.
I wasn’t surprised at all. Teens, and even children in Dorchester routinely have days and projects for peace. Park dedications, paintings of murals, and the annual Mother’s Walk for Peace takes back the streets of Dorchester every Mother’s Day. I don’t know if Martin Richard’s poster was for any such occasion. I don’t know the family, and I wouldn’t pretend to assume the intentions of an eight-year-old little boy I’ve never met. It’s much more likely though, that his sign was a call for peace in his community than a condemnation of terrorism at large.
In 2011, my Co-Director at Press Pass TV Joanna Marinova led our organization in putting on an incredible exhibit called Anonymous Boston, that examined dozens of young lives lost too soon, many, like Martin Richard, hailing from Dorchester. Kim Odom, who took part in the exhibit, has a journal of writing from her son Steven, who was 13 when he was killed, full of pleas for peace in his community. Tina Chery, the Executive Director of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, that runs the annual Mother’s walk lost her 15 year-old-son, for whom the institute is named, while he was on his way to a Christmas party for a group called Teens Against Gang Violence.
Last Monday, many people’s sense of safety and security was shattered as those bombs went off. For many children in parts of Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, and other communities that face persistent violence that sense of safety didn’t exist before those bombs went off, and in the week that Boston mourned, rightfully, for the three lives lost at the marathon, 2 other men were shot and killed. I am not in any way saying that what happened last Monday was not different. I am simply asking, that if we really want to, as the Washington Post suggest, “listen to Martin,” then we will do more than try to stop violence. We’ll ask the harder questions of how we can begin to stop people from hurting, everywhere, and truly build peace.