As 8-year-old Darrell Truesdale scampers down the corridors of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore on a recent summer morning, the inner-city youth prepares for a lesson about Mahatma Gandhi, the slain political and spiritual leader of India who advocated nonviolent solutions.
The session is part of a forceful curriculum at the school’s summer-long Peace Camp, designed to teach Baltimore’s children how to rebuke the violence plaguing city streets.
Though it’s the third year St. Frances Academy has offered a free, six-week, all-day camp, this is the first summer it has a “peace” theme.
The camp’s mission is to engage the 34 children enrolled in a variety of activities that teach realistic and valuable lifelong lessons in resolving conflicts in a peaceful manner.
For the first two years, the camp’s focus was on literacy – which continues – but organizers decided that Baltimore’s rising violent crime rate and the continuing war in Iraq were desensitizing city youth to aggressive behavior in settling disputes.
“The kids are affected by violence in the streets,” said Ralph Moore, director of the St. Frances Academy Community Center. “The message is all about fighting in this culture. We want to instill nonviolent values and assert peacefulness in resolving differences.”
As she led children into the Chase Street school’s gymnasium for the morning’s peace exercise, camp leader Iyana Wakefield’s commanding voice reminded the youths to be respectful of one another and mind their manners – skills that will help them smooth over violent circumstances.
Each week the youngsters – who live or attend school in the nearby Brentwood Village neighborhood – learn about “peaceful heroes” like Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai and Martin Luther King Jr.
Daily fun-themed activities are designed to instill respect, better listening, conflict resolution, courageousness, forgiveness and environmental reverence.
“We also want this to be fun for the kids, so we have movies we think they’ll like and play games that will show them how nonviolence will produce better results in conflicts,” said Michael Gonzalez, 21, a counselor at the camp and a senior at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio.
The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The peace camp’s $32,000 budget is funded by a $10,000 grant from the Baltimore Community Foundation, $8,000 from the city for youth worker salaries, $2,600 raised at a pre-camp event at the school and $11,400 in business and private donations, said Mr. Moore.
Campers are also provided with breakfast, lunch, snacks, swimming opportunities and field trips, including one to Washington, D.C.
“We want to equip them with peacemaking skills so they become ambassadors of peace in their homes, schools and communities, and ultimately the world,” Mr. Moore said. “If we can reach these kids when they are young, we hope we can make a difference in their lives and in the climate in our communities.”