Facing Down Danger

Arguments and violence have met their match in one Chicago school: a team of students called the Peace Warriors. 

At the end of the hallway, two kids are shouting. One shoves the other. Now it’s a fight. A crowd gathers. Rahmier Williams runs toward the onlookers and pushes his way through. He pulls the two young men apart, getting elbowed in the process. They stand there, still angry, staring at Rahmier, who starts talking to them . . . about peace.

Rahmier, 18, is a member of the Peace Warriors, an extraordinary group of high school activists at North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago who are changing their community. Following principles exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr., they have committed to living nonviolently and teaching others to do the same. As a result of their work, students know each other better, there are fewer fights, and when conflicts do break out, they get resolved. 

Unsafe City

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

Violence has touched Rahmier’s life for as long as he can remember. Three months before he was born, his father was fatally shot on the street. He was also bullied at each of the three elementary schools he went to. By the time he started ninth grade in 2014, Rahmier was shy and lonely. “I sat by myself at lunch,” he says.

One day, as he and his cousin were leaving his grandmother’s house, gang members opened fire on them. They were unhurt, but for months afterward Rahmier was afraid to go outside.

Sometimes violence creeps into schools 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 and founder of the Peace Warriors. 

Producing a Peace Warrior

The Peace Warriors initially caught Rahmier’s attention because of their distinctive T-shirts, and he decided to attend a meeting just to get one. But soon he was hooked. The 25 or so teens and the handful of teacher advisers had deep discussions. They asked intense questions like, “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 too. “Jordan was really affected by all the violence he saw in the neighborhood. He thought peace was a lost cause,” Rahmier remembers.

The Peace Warriors program teaches that violence doesn’t have to be answered with more violence. “I 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 mindset changed, it just 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 conflict—by using humor, by encouraging people to talk things out, or by building community.

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

Peace Is Contagious

Rahmier saw the work influencing unexpected groups. He and other Peace Warriors cheerfully greeted students at the entrance to school in the mornings, broke up fights as soon as they started, resolved conflict through peer conferences called Peace Circles, and wrote condolence cards for students dealing with a death in the family.

Rahmier also led daily peer mediations and trained almost 1,000 kids and adults in the Chicago community on how to live nonviolently.

“There are people at school besides Peace Warriors who are willing to help,” he says. “If we’re greeting people in the morning, football players will walk up and help greet people too. Everybody loves doing what Peace Warriors do.”

Last year, Rahmier’s group trained adults who had recently been released from jail. “When they got their 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.’”

And when Rahmier’s friend, Jordan, did 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.” 

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