Teens rally for peace
Walter Bonam likes to start his day with a simple prayer: “Lord help me to see what you are asking of me. Lord, help me do what will glorify you.”
It is a prayer he prayed with those attending the “Team Up Against Violence” peace rally on April 12 at Notre Dame Seminary to encourage their efforts for peace.
Bonam, archdiocesan religious education office associate director, divulged how his life changed on July 6, 2011, when an intruder’s bullet left him paralyzed from the waist down and with limited use of his hands. But, instead of bitterness, he gives thank for his life and knows God spared his life for a reason.
Symptom, not victim
“I would like to think of myself not so much as a victim of violence but as a symptom of violence that points toward other issues in our society,” Bonam said.
As people of God, Bonam implored everyone to look deeper into issues such as racism, segregation and discrimination that can lead to violence.
He applauded the students for organizing the day and hoped they would understand their role to vocalize intolerance to societal violence and injustice. Bonam called the rally a small seed from which larger and more positive things could grow to change people’s hearts and minds about violence and racism.
“Bring what you have learned into the classroom, particularly in regards to Catholic teachings on social justice, and take that with you in the voting booth,” he said.
Small thought grew
The idea to pique teens’ awareness about violence in the community originated with Ryan Walden while a sophomore at Archbishop Rummel High School. He transferred to De La Salle and, with fellow students Shelby Boyd and Julien Purpura, who are co-presidents of the student body, expanded the idea into a rally. They worked closely with campus ministers Denise Otillio at Rummel and Tony Behan at De La Salle.
“Our hope was to empower the youth,” Purpura said. “The youth are key to issues like this. Twenty or 30 years down the line, we will be taking over in leadership positions in the city of New Orleans, and we hope to make a difference to make violence less an issue.”
“We thought this was a timely way of connecting with the archbishop’s prayer (for non-violence) and the city,” Otillio said.
Since both are Lasallian schools of the Christian Brothers, founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle, the event encompassed their core principles of inclusion, respect for all people, faith, service and social justice.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond, U.S. Attorney General Kenneth Polite and archdiocesan Catholic School superintendent Dr. Jan Lancaster spoke to the youth about being the change necessary to eradicate violence.
“The young adult church is leading us as a city and as adults,” Archbishop Aymond said. They are taking the initiative against the new “Battle of New Orleans” against violence, murder and racism.
He reiterated that this new violence and hatred stretches beyond the streets of New Orleans and its surrounding communities. It’s not just perpetrated with knives or guns but creeps into homes, and in schools in the form of bullying that is now destroying so many lives.
“When we have these events, we want to be sure to reach out to those who have lost loved ones to violence, and there are many,” he said.
He encouraged young adults to be peacemakers in our time, as stated in his “Family Prayer” prayed weekly at Mass. He called on God to give them strength and perseverance to overcome the violence in society and to help them walk in Jesus’ peace.
“We thank you for standing out and calling attention to this important issue,” he said. “We want to be one with you in solidarity.”
De La Salle graduate and current U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite hailed the event as a wakeup call.
“The future of our city and our region begins now,” he said.
He traced his beginnings as a young adult in the housing projects and the Ninth Ward who overcame obstacles to earn a scholarship to De La Salle, graduate from Harvard and Georgetown Law School and being appointed by President Obama as a U.S. attorney at 38 years old in 2013, making him the second-youngest U.S. attorney in America.
“Like some of you, I have felt the stinging pain of losing a loved one – my own half-brother – to the violence in the city of New Orleans,” he said.
Regardless of where they were from, how much money they had, their religion, race or age, Polite told them they had the capacity to complete whatever they set their minds to do.
“You can be part of the solution,” he said, by working hard at school, developing habits for hard work, setting goals, picking friends who are positive influences and seeking guidance from those who have walked before them.
Polite announced a Community Service Initiative and asked the youth to sign a “Student Pledge Against Violence.” The pledge states that they won’t bring guns to school, won’t use guns to settle a dispute and would influence friends and family against using guns to fight or settle a dispute.
“It’s simple, but it will carry a positive message ... that our young people are taking a stand to change the world,” he said. “You are the future, and the future begins today.”
Lancaster told the young church to pray and to model peace. She counted on them to be “peacemakers of our time,” as stated in the Family Prayer she led at the event.
Will become annual event
It may have started off with Lasallian-affiliated schools, but other schools, including Mount Carmel Academy, plan to join the effort next year.
“We’re hoping that from this, the teens in our community will go out and talk to people and get them involved,” Boyd said. “I think it takes only one person to say something or stand up to someone that can change the future.”
“I feel the future of our city is in the hands of students like us,” Walden said. “We will fight to make New Orleans a city of peace.”