By Jane Whitehead
A TRANSFORMATIVE APPROACH FROM DORCHESTER’S LOUIS D. BROWN PEACE INSTITUTE
On Sunday, October 23, 1:30-3:30 p.m., the Gun Violence Prevention Group of the Follen Church Social Justice Action Team will host a presentation by the Dorchester-based Louis D. Brown Peace Institute (LDBPI) on their transformative approach to supporting families on both sides of murder. Featuring Peace Institute Founder & President, Chaplain Clementina Chéry and staff, the event is free and open to the public, at Follen Church, 755 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington.
Clementina (Tina) Chéry did not set out to be a peace activist or violence prevention leader. In the early 1990s her focus was on making a warm, secure environment for her three children in their Dorchester home. On December 20, 1993 their family life was torn apart when her eldest son, Louis David Brown, 15, was shot and killed blocks from home, caught in the crossfire in a shootout between rival drug dealers. He was on the way to a Christmas party for Teens Against Gang Violence.
From Pain and Anger to Power and Action
“When I was told that Louis was brain dead, I felt like a bomb exploded inside of me – my mind, my heart, and my soul,” Chéry told the congregation at Follen Church in a short, powerful talk on March 13, 2016. “When Louis was killed,” said Chéry, “I needed to find a way of channeling my pain and anger into power and action.” In 1994, she and her family founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute as a lasting memorial to her son, and a way of carrying forward his commitment to preventing violence in their community.
“When Louis was killed, I needed to find a way of channeling my pain and anger into power and action.”
Clementina (Tina) Chéry
Chéry told how in 2000, she reached out to Doris Bogues, the mother of Charles Bogues, the young man accused of killing Louis. “When we met at a local bar,” she said, “there were silent tears and a warm embrace, woman to woman, mother to mother, heart to heart.” In 2010, she met Charles Bogues face to face for the first time, and in 2012 worked with his mother, his support team and community leaders to plan his re-entry into society, as he prepared for his parole hearing. (Now on parole, Bogues works in construction and spoke at the Peace Rally after this year’s Mothers’ Day Walk for Peace, the Peace Institute’s signature annual fund-raiser.)
Forgiveness and Accountability
Recently, Chéry and the Bogues, mother and son, took part in a restorative justice panel as part of the Peace Institute’s new Intergenerational Justice Program. The program, Chéry told the Follen congregation, supports families on both sides of murder in their journeys to healing, accountability, forgiveness and reconciliation. “I know that extending my hand in forgiveness has saved Mr. Bogues and his family,” said Chéry. “It has also saved my family, and I have been an example to my children.”
In a recent email exchange, Chéry wrote that even in the middle of her grief immediately following the murder, and the pressure on her to step into the public eye, she was determined to focus “on who Louis was, what he believed in, how we raised him, and the values that were instilled in him,” rather than join in heated debates about “guns, gangs, drugs, prison and the death penalty.”
The first public event after Louis’s death was a celebration of his life, on what would have been his sixteenth birthday. The Chéry family asked guests to nominate a young person for the good she or he was doing in the community. “We asked people to focus on the assets of our young people and not on the deficits,” she said, and this continues to be central to the mission of the Peace Institute.
Healing, Teaching, Learning
Twenty-two years later, the LDBPI is a center of healing, teaching and learning for families impacted by murder, committed to helping not only families of victims, but also families of people imprisoned for murder. “Our purpose is to transform society’s response to homicide so that all families are treated with dignity and compassion, regardless of the circumstances,” said Mallory Hanora, LDBPI Communications and Policy Coordinator.
At the core of the Peace Institute’s programs are Survivor Outreach Services (SOS), offering immediate help and guidance to the families of homicide victims, from coordinating family support networks and assisting with funeral planning, to navigating the criminal justice system. According to the LDBPI website, the Institute serves close to 1000 people annually. The Louis D. Brown Peace Curriculum for students K-12 was recognized in 1996 by then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for its contribution to reducing juvenile crime.
The Traveling Memorial Button Project, which literally puts a face to murder victims by commemorating them in two-and-a-quarter-inch buttons, given out to family and friends and displayed all together on a large banner that travels across the country to conferences and community events, was recently named fifth on a WBUR list of 50 Best Public Artworks in Boston.
“It takes courage to turn a personal tragedy into a public service for good,” said James J. Kelly, the then-president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in the 2011 citation of Tina Chéry as the organization’s Public Citizen of the Year. “Clementina Chéry is a tireless advocate for peace in struggling neighborhoods, and an inspiration to us all,” he said. Chéry’s other awards include Lady in the Order of St. Gregory the Great, bestowed by Pope John Paul II, the Search for Common Ground 2001 International Service Award, and the American Red Cross 1998 Clara Barton Humanitarian Award.
The Follen Connection
Members of the Follen Church community first met Peace Institute staff in 2010, following the murder of Jaewon Martin, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at the James P. Timilty School in Roxbury, who was shot dead on a Roxbury basketball court. Counselors from the Peace Institute were offering support and counseling to Martin’s schoolmates, who were in a tutoring program run by the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry at the nearby Roxbury Meeting house, in which Follen Church members participated.
“Over the years, we got to know Tina Chéry and her staff, and I and others were in awe of the work of the Institute, founded and staffed entirely by survivors of victims of gun violence,” said Anne Grady, chair of Follen’s Gun Violence Prevention Group, founded in the fall of 2013, who initiated the invitation to Chéry to speak at Follen. “We started sending people to the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace – last year 85 members of our congregation of 300 people walked,” said Grady, noting that for the past two years Follen donations to the Peace Institute through the Walk have been the largest from any faith community.
This year’s Walk, on May 8 2016, marked the event’s 20th anniversary and drew more than 15,000 people from communities throughout the Greater Boston area, starting at Field’s Corner in Dorchester and ending with a Peace Rally at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Among the walkers for the first time this year – the first time she’s found a substitute to take the Sunday service – was Follen Minister Claire Feingold Thoryn, who took part with her husband and daughters, then aged three and six. “To join that moving river of humanity walking through Boston was really incredible, and shows the support that so many people have for making Boston and all of our communities in the surrounding areas safer and more peaceful, ” said Feingold Thoryn.
Recognizing Strength as Well as Struggle
Feingold Thoryn hopes the October 23 event will raise awareness and promote engagement in the wider Lexington community, and deepen Follen’s existing partnerships with the Peace Institute and Urban Ministry. Given that “some of our communities are really devastated by gun violence and others are living in a world of privilege,” it’s particularly important to be “a partner and an ally and not try to create something new when there are already people out there doing really good work,” she said. Grady hopes people will be inspired and empowered by Chéry and her team. “I hope that people in Lexington will understand that there are things you can do to work for peace and help students at risk,” she said. Chéry welcomes the Follen community’s willingness “to bear witness, to listen, to learn, and to participate.” She added: “It’s very important to me that people outside of Boston see the beauty in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan and truly recognize our strengths, not just our struggles.”
Find out more about the work of the Peace Institute at the website: www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org