Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Day of Peace :: Red Wing Correction Facility - Red Wing, MN

After PeaceJam in Minneapolis was through, PeaceJam staff from Denver, local youthrive staff, youthrive partners, youthrive: LIVE! artists and President Oscar Arias Sanchez (1987 Nobel Peace Prize) took a day trip to Red Wing for "A Day of Peace" at the Red Wing Correction Facility.

The young men gathered to listen to the stories and ideas of President Arias. Residents, identified by their peers and teachers as peacemakers, were given the opportunity to shake the President's hand and ask him questions. The 'peacemakers' were also the residents who greeted us and made sure we knew where we needed to go. They were pretty cool young men.

Following the president's presentation, we broke into groups to accompany the residents back to their houses/dorms to have lunch together and do workshops. I joined the one on creative expressions and it was beautiful. A couple of the young men brought out their poetry to share with us before lunch was over. And by the time we were through with the workshop, we had gotten pretty deep. Most of them shared something from their story. From my experience of listening to their stories and poetry, I mostly just want everyone to know that I saw a lot of hope and a lot of humility in these young men. They articulated a genuine desire to move beyond whatever had led them to the correction facility in the first place. Some shared about the pain in their experiences. Some shared anger. All of it was honest and raw. All of it contained eagerness for a better life.

Following the workshops, we all gathered together again in the gymnasium for the finale celebration of The Day of Peace. Dawn Engle, co-founder of PeaceJam, shared some moving reflections. Youthrive: LIVE! artists - Maria Isa with Muja Messiah, D.J. Snuggles and Heatherlyn - performed. I'm not sure exactly what moved them, but I was blown away that the residents stood to their feet and applauded enthusiastically after my first song. Pretty humbling.

I remember, as we were leaving, I was thinking that probably the general population has a pretty skewed view of residents of a correction facility. We hear labels like 'juvenile delinquent' perhaps without giving a second thought to how laden with disgust and judgment these terms tend to be and with no consideration given to that young person's story, what they've been taught, whether or not a trusted grown up has been there for them as a guide or a mentor.

Judgmental assumptions have no place until (and even when) we've taken time to do some storydwelling, some deep listening to the pain and disappointment and hopes and heartbeat of someone's life. When we give place to understanding and compassion, we want another person to succeed, learn from their past, fulfill their dreams to overcome and be a positive contributor to society and the world.

I left the correction facility appreciating the environment there, one that shows respect to the residents (I noted that the staff didn't call residents, 'inmates') and appropriate accountability that leads to empowerment, growth and even leadership. I was thinking about the cold and structured societal systems of paperwork and records that face these guys when they move on from the nurturing environment of Red Wing and I was just hoping that they would continue to be encouraged and empowered to keep moving forward with the progress they've made, that their pasts would not be held against them, that each and every one of them would be able to start anew and fresh when it's their turn to go back home or go to college or get a job.

Some of the residents were thinking about that too, it seems and they inquired if there's a way to connect into PeaceJam when they graduate out of the Red Wing program. There are ways and I think we are learning how to communicate the potential opportunity.

Jason and I look forward to returning and continuing to connect through our excellent partners youthrive and PeaceJam, to learn the stories of the Red Wing Correction Facility residents and engage in creative experession and conversation with them. We trust that we will continue to hear stories of hope, change and positive leadership from these residents even beyond those walls and gates in Red Wing.

Peace, Friends.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cool gifts from some new young friends


Shared music with the community at Light Of The World Lutheran Church in Farmington, MN yesterday. Immediately following, a couple new little fans came right up to me with these sweet gifts. I noticed that even though the topic of conversation wasn't specifically about peace and even though these youngsters were seated at different tables, they both brought me symbols of peace. These unanticipated benefits of the gig and the smiles they bring to your face, straight through to your heart...you just can't name how valuable they are. Thanks to my new little friends at LOTW. Smiley face.

Peace and One Love.

Heatherlyn with Youthrive for PeaceJam in Minneapolis


Each year, our partner youthrive (St. Paul, MN), the regional affiliate of the international PeaceJam, holds an event for all youth in the region who have been participating in youthrive curriculum: serving their communities, building peace where they are and learning about the life story and work of a particular PeaceJam Nobel Laurate.

This year, the Nobel laureate was President Oscar Arias Sanchez. In the fall, each of the youth groups made a committment to Preseident Arias to make a difference through a specific project in their communities. In the spring, he came to the regional PeaceJam celebration in Minneapolis to visit the youth in person and be their keynote presenter. During this weekend, the youth reported back to President Arias what they've accomplished on their committments and projects. They also engaged together in service learning in the Frogtown neighborhood and enjoyed inspirational local artists and cultural celebration.

As a youthrive:LIVE! artist, Heatherlyn was invited to contribute music to the Ceremony of Inspiration, a time in the weekend - after hearing the Nobel laurate and after spending hours working hard on service project - a time when all the youth who desire come forward to share what inspires them to be the change they want to see in the world. They shared about their families, experiences of community surrounding them following a traumatic experience, loved ones who have passed on and individuals who have made a difference in their lives.

I was inspired by them and their stories. I was inspired to see youth from all over the MidWest, youth of every color, some from citites, some from farms, coming from different creeds and backgrounds. There are probably many things that differentiated them but they all share in common the desire to participate in hope and engage in meaningful, positive change in their communities.

Learn more about PeaceJam, youthrive and President Oscar Arias Sanchez at their respective links.

Peace and One Love.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Performance for SADD Students/MADD Youth Jam at Verizon Center, Mankato


Photo by John Cross. Origin: Mankato Free Press

Once again, our partnership with youthrive: LIVE! provided a soulful, rooted, rockin' opportunity to contibute music to a movement much larger than ourselves. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD Minnesota) hosted a Youth Jam in Mankato, MN for about 250 youth, most of whom are part of the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) program and all who are leaders of their peers, seeking to be the change they want to see in their world.

They day was about equipping and empowering SADD students to respond to the devestating impact of distracted driving that, unfortunately, many of them have experienced with the loss of a friend and to prevent reoccurance.

Youthrive; LIVE! brought Heatherlyn Music, beatboxer D.J. Snuggles and hip-hop artist Maria Isa to lend some entertainment and inspiration to the day. We then co-led one of the many breakout sessions in a panel discussion about being leaders of change through the arts. This was a really fun and meaningful time of connecting with students and I was personally, heartened to, once again, encounter such stellar youth leaders who are taking initiative to positively shape their world.

And we made the news! Check out more about the day here!

More great photos on Facebook. (Not sure that everyone will be able to see these, but if you're able, enjoy!)