Students at Northwest Academy of Law in St. Louis stand behind a tombstone created in memory of one of 18 youth killed this year. The tombstone later is transformed into a message of peace.Photo: AFSC / Joshua Saleem
A tombstone is transformed into an image of peace at the St. Louis Peace March and Rally, May 2014.Photo: AFSC / Joshua Saleem
By Joshua Saleem
What do 120 pieces of foam board, 250 plastic zip ties, 20 bottles of paint, 350 young people and 1 hot glue gun have in common? They were all part of a Peace March and Rally that AFSC cosponsored in May at Northwest Academy of Law in St. Louis.
Inspired by the F-35 Transformers used at this year’s If I Had A Trillion Dollars (IHTD) Film Festival, students and teachers built tombstones to represent violence and death in their community -- specifically 18 to represent the 18 homicides connected to youth in St. Louis Public Schools since January 2014.
Once the tombstones were built, students were asked the question “What does your community need to build peace?” They painted their answers on the interior of each tombstone.
Activities began with a rally that included Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, The Ethics Project’s Christi Griffin, and the NAACP’s Redditt Hudson among other civic and community leaders. They answered questions about the ways in which they were working to reduce violence.
Students then marched down Riverview Boulevard holding signs and chanting, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people ‘cause the power of the people don’t stop” and “We are unstoppable/a peaceful world is possible.” The chants were another element we brought back with us from IHTD.
After the march, everyone gathered on the football field where the tombstones had been set up as if on a cemetery. When the signal was given, students transformed each tombstone, laying it flat on the football field and revealing their symbols of peace. Their 30-second action on the football field was symbolic of the everyday actions going on at Northwest, where youth are being equipped and empowered to transform their school and community from violence to peace.
The Peace March and Rally were the culmination of the efforts of many to bring peace to Northwest this year. We’re excited for what next year has in store because, even though school’s out for the summer, the power of the people don’t stop!
For media coverage of the event featuring AFSC intern Aja McCoy, check out this St. Louis American story.
Joshua Saleem is Peace Education Director for AFSC in St. Louis. His e-mail is JSaleem@afsc.org.