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Peace During War Takes Aim at Gun Violence

  • Hard-learned lessons of forgiveness Diverting youths from paths leading to prison or death is the mission of Peace During War, a Kalamazoo, Mich. group that uses its co-founders' tough experiences to offer straight truths to school groups. Image Credit: Peace During Wartime

  • Hard-learned lessons of forgiveness Diverting youths from paths leading to prison or death is the mission of Peace During War, a Kalamazoo, Mich. group that uses its co-founders' tough experiences to offer straight truths to school groups. Image Credit: Peace During Wartime

  • Hard-learned lessons of forgiveness Diverting youths from paths leading to prison or death is the mission of Peace During War, a Kalamazoo, Mich. group that uses its co-founders' tough experiences to offer straight truths to school groups. Image Credit: Peace During Wartime

  • Hard-learned lessons of forgiveness Diverting youths from paths leading to prison or death is the mission of Peace During War, a Kalamazoo, Mich. group that uses its co-founders' tough experiences to offer straight truths to school groups. Image Credit: Peace During Wartime

  • Hard-learned lessons of forgiveness Diverting youths from paths leading to prison or death is the mission of Peace During War, a Kalamazoo, Mich. group that uses its co-founders' tough experiences to offer straight truths to school groups. Image Credit:

Peace During War Takes Aim at Gun Violence

“You are special, talented and loved--believe that, and not the bad things people may have said about you in the past.”

Positive, affirming messages like this can go a long way to help youth surrounded by negative role models, and Michael Wilder and Yafinceio Harris are proof. Formerly rival gang members, Wilder and Harris are now leaders of Peace During War, a Kalamazoo, Michigan organization that works to interject hope and forgiveness into the mindset of youths at risk for gun violence.

“The thing that makes forgiveness so powerful is that the people who forgive can change lives,” Wilder says. “We’re trying to infiltrate the streets and let our young people know that they’re worth something.”

Wilder’s direction changed shortly after his 33rd birthday, when he was involved in a shooting in which a man died. Hoping to avoid being charged as an accomplice, he turned himself in. He ended up imprisoned on a drug conviction and was inspired by speakers who presented to inmates during his incarceration. He entered community college upon his release.

The man who died in the altercation Wilder was a part of happened to be Yafinceio Harris’ cousin. Harris was haunted by a call for retribution. He too served time in prison, but discovered a new path once he entered community college—coincidentally enrolled in the same English class as Wilder. Recognizing Wilder, Harris turned the other cheek and sought out a friendship.

The Fetzer Institute is supporting some of the foundational aspects of Wilder's and Harris’ outreach work. Peace During War and the interaction between Wilder and Harris and high school students is also the topic of a new documentary short, which made its debut at the 2014 Waterfront Film Festival in South Haven, Michigan. Their story was previously featured on American Public Media’s “The Story.”

Wilder and Harris communicate hope, love, forgiveness, and empathy. They provide a new perspective, a clear understanding, and an honest entry point for addressing the issues of urban violence and poverty and the impact on the coming generations.

Focusing on two distinct audiences, Peace During War reaches young people who make difficult life choices, and educators, politicians, and family members attempting to help youth in these situations. Kids receive a straight, no-holds-barred view of the end result of a street life, paths that end in jail and death. For adults, the project aims to provide understanding, empathy, and a new dialogue about the issues involved and the need to work to restore young lives to productive paths.

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Information and Communications Professions.