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“We interject love and kindness, and we interrupt nonsense.”—Rahmier Williams, 18

Jean-Marc Giboux/AP Images for Scholastic, Inc.

STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.5, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.7

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.1, Civ.7, Civ.10

NCSS: Individual development and identity; Culture; Civic ideals and practices

CIVICS NOW

Meet a Changemaker

He Solves Conflicts With Kindness

Arguments and violence have met their match in one Chicago high school: a team of students called the Peace Warriors, who help resolve disagreements

At the end of the hallway, two kids are shouting. One shoves the other, and a fight breaks out. Soon, a huge crowd of students gathers to watch—and cheer them on. 

Suddenly, Rahmier Williams, 18, runs toward the onlookers and pushes his way through. He pulls the two teens apart, getting elbowed in the process. They stand there, still angry, staring at Rahmier, who starts talking to them—about peace.

Rahmier is a member of the Peace Warriors, a group of student activists at North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago, Illinois, who are working to change their community. Following principles of nonviolence like those that guided Martin Luther King Jr., they have committed to living peacefully—and teaching others to do the same. As a result of their work, students at their high school know each other better and have fewer fights. And when conflicts do break out, they tend to get resolved quickly.

At the end of the hallway, two kids are shouting. One shoves the other. A fight breaks out. Soon, a huge crowd of students gathers to watch and cheer them on.

Suddenly, Rahmier Williams, 18, runs toward the onlookers. He pushes his way through. He pulls the two teens apart, getting elbowed in the process. They stand there, still angry. They stare at Rahmier. Then he starts talking to them about peace.

Rahmier is a member of the Peace Warriors. That is a group of student activists at North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago, Illinois. They are working to change their community. The students follow principles of nonviolence like those that guided Martin Luther King Jr. They have committed to living peacefully. And they teach others to do the same. As a result of their work, students at their high school know each other better. They have fewer fights. And when conflicts do break out, they tend to get resolved quickly.

A City Plagued by Violence 

Rahmier’s hometown of Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States—and one of the most dangerous. “At Least 58 People Shot in Chicago This Week­end,” one newspaper headline announced this past summer.

Violence has touched Rahmier’s life in countless ways. Three months before he was born, his father was fatally shot on the street. As a kid, Rahmier was bullied at each of the three elementary schools he went to. By the time he started ninth grade in 2014, he was shy and lonely. “I sat by myself at lunch,” he recalls.

A few years ago, Rahmier and his cousin were leaving their ­grandmother’s house when gang members opened fire on them. Luckily, they were unhurt, but for months afterward Rahmier was afraid to go outside.

Violence often creeps into life at school too. One year, there were 100 on-campus fights at North Lawndale. “For a population of 400 students, that’s a lot,” says Tiffany Childress Price, a chemistry teacher at the school who helped found the Peace Warriors in 2009.

Rahmier’s hometown of Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States. It is also one of the most dangerous. “At Least 58 People Shot in Chicago This Weekend,” one newspaper headline announced this past summer.

Violence has touched Rahmier’s life in countless ways. Three months before he was born, his father was shot to death on the street. As a kid, Rahmier was bullied at each of the three elementary schools he went to. By the time he started ninth grade in 2014, he was shy and lonely. “I sat by myself at lunch,” he recalls.

A few years ago, Rahmier and his cousin were leaving their grandmother’s house when gang members opened fire on them. Luckily, they were unhurt. But for months afterward, Rahmier was afraid to go outside.

Violence often creeps into life at school too. One year, there were 100 on-campus fights at North Lawndale. “For a population of 400 students, that’s a lot,” says Tiffany Childress Price. She is a chemistry teacher at the school. She helped found the Peace Warriors in 2009.

Courtesy of Family

Promoting Peace: Rahmier and his fellow Peace Warriors pose for a group selfie.

Solving Arguments With Kindness and Humor 

The Peace Warriors initially caught Rahmier’s attention because of their distinctive T-shirts, which feature a giant peace sign on the back, and he decided to attend a meeting so he could get one. But after participating in just one meeting, he was hooked. The 25 or so teens and the handful of teacher advisers had deep discussions. They asked questions, such as “What was the saddest day of your life?” and “Talk about your experiences with violence—both physical and emotional.”

“At first I only felt comfortable sharing little bits of my life,” Rahmier says. “But when I finally shared how my dad died, it actually made me feel better.”

He tried to talk his best friend, Jordan Caples, into joining the group too. “Jordan was really affected by all the violence he saw in the neighbor­hood,” Rahmier remembers. “He thought peace was a lost cause.” 

The Peace Warriors believe that violence doesn’t have to be met with more violence. “I had never heard this before,” Rahmier says. “My mom told me if somebody hits me, hit them back. But when I became willing to have my mind-set changed, it opened up everything.”

The principles that guide the Peace Warriors hold that non­violence is actually more courageous than violence. Students learn that they can resolve conflicts by using humor, by encouraging people to talk things out, or by building a sense of community.

“Different Peace Warriors will do different things to break up a fight,” Rahmier says. “For example, one student is the class clown. So when he says something totally outrageous like ‘Whale blubber,’ everybody’s just going to laugh. We interject love and kindness, and we interrupt nonsense.”

The Peace Warriors first caught Rahmier’s attention because of their distinctive T-shirts. The shirts have a giant peace sign on the back. He decided to attend a meeting so he could get one. But after taking part in just one meeting, he was hooked. The 25 or so teens and the handful of teacher advisers had deep discussions. They asked questions, such as “What was the saddest day of your life?” and “Talk about your experiences with violence—both physical and emotional.”

“At first I only felt comfortable sharing little bits of my life,” Rahmier says. “But when I finally shared how my dad died, it actually made me feel better.”

He tried to talk his best friend, Jordan Caples, into joining the group too. “Jordan was really affected by all the violence he saw in the neighborhood,” Rahmier remembers. “He thought peace was a lost cause.”

The Peace Warriors believe that violence does not have to be met with more violence. “I had never heard this before,” Rahmier says. “My mom told me if somebody hits me, hit them back. But when I became willing to have my mind-set changed, it opened up everything.”

The principles that guide the Peace Warriors hold that nonviolence is actually more courageous than violence. Students learn that they can settle conflicts by encouraging people to talk things out or by building a sense of community. Or they can use humor.

“Different Peace Warriors will do different things to break up a fight,” Rahmier says. “For example, one student is the class clown. So when he says something totally outrageous like ‘Whale blubber,’ everybody’s just going to laugh. We interject love and kindness, and we interrupt nonsense.”

Spreading Peace

In addition to breaking up fights, the Peace Warriors cheerfully greet students at the entrance to school, lead daily peer mediation to help their classmates resolve disagree­ments, and write condolence cards to students who are dealing with a death in the family.

Rahmier has taught nearly 1,000 kids and adults in the Chicago community how to live nonviolently. Last year, he and his fellow Peace Warriors even trained adults who had recently been released from jail. 

When the adults got their ­certifi­cates for finishing the Peace Warriors program, Rahmier says, “they just started crying. One of them told us, ‘This is the first thing I ever got that means something to me.’”

And when Rahmier’s friend Jordan eventually decided to join the Peace Warriors, he told Rahmier, “Oh, this is actually powerful. I’m sorry that I didn’t start this earlier.”

“This is my calling,” Rahmier says. In college, he plans to study communications to continue learning how to teach people about the power of nonviolence. “It changed my life by changing my community,” he says. “I know it can work anywhere.”

In addition to breaking up fights, the Peace Warriors cheerfully greet students at the entrance to school. They lead daily peer mediation to help their classmates resolve disagreements. And they write condolence cards to students who are dealing with a death in the family.

Rahmier has taught nearly 1,000 kids and adults in the Chicago community how to live nonviolently. Last year, he and his fellow Peace Warriors even trained adults who had recently been released from jail.

When the adults finished the Peace Warriors program, they got certificates. Rahmier says, “They just started crying. One of them told us, ‘This is the first thing I ever got that means something to me.’”

Eventually, Rahmier’s friend Jordan decided to join the Peace Warriors. He told Rahmier, “Oh, this is actually powerful. I’m sorry that I didn’t start this earlier.”

“This is my calling,” Rahmier says. In college, he plans to study communications. He wants to keep learning how to teach people about the power of nonviolence. “It changed my life by changing my community,” he says. “I know it can work anywhere.”

Write About It! Research a nonviolent activist, such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Mohandas Gandhi. Then write an essay comparing that person’s actions with those of the Peace Warriors. 

How YOU Can Help

Talk It Out: Don’t let a disagreement with friends turn into a major confrontation. If you’re upset about something they did or said, pull them aside and let them know. Chances are, if you’re calm and respectful, they will be too.

Don’t Be a Bystander: If you see students yelling at each other in the hallways, don’t just stand by and watch. Intervene (if it’s safe to do so) or get a teacher or other trusted adult to help break up the argument.

Get Your Friends Involved: Let your friends know that you don’t believe in violence—and are committed to stopping it in your community. Encourage them to follow your lead by pledging to fight violence with peace. 

Talk It Out: Don’t let a disagreement with friends turn into a major confrontation. If you’re upset about something they did or said, pull them aside and let them know. Chances are, if you’re calm and respectful, they will be too.

Don’t Be a Bystander: If you see students yelling at each other in the hallways, don’t just stand by and watch. Intervene (if it’s safe to do so) or get a teacher or other trusted adult to help break up the argument.

Get Your Friends Involved: Let your friends know that you don’t believe in violence—and are committed to stopping it in your community. Encourage them to follow your lead by pledging to fight violence with peace. 

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