Clementina Chery had a choice to make shortly after her 15-year-old son was innocently gunned down in crossfire between gangs battling in Dorchester.
“For me the anger and violence was there,” she said, adding, “I didn’t want to go that route. I wanted to go on the path less traveled.”
Chery chose the path of peace following the death of her son, Louis Brown, and founded the Dorchester-based Louis D. Brown Peace Institute.
Her son was killed in 1993 as he walked one afternoon into a teens against gang violence event. It was her son’s death, she said, that woke her up.
“My anger was there, my search for revenge was there, but yet who was I going to take revenge out on? Someone who looked just like me? Someone who looked just like my son? So I had to channel my pain and my anger in a way that would be more about rebuilding the community,” she said.
The Peace Institute focuses on primary prevention, to stop the seeds of violence before they grow, and peace education as a way to stem violence. It has even developed curriculum for elementary to high school students on how to choose peace over violence in the wake of a crime.
Primary prevention such as peace education and emotional literacy are areas that Chery believes will provide long-term tools for young people and help communities more than “Band-Aid solutions.”
“If we don’t address the emotional psychological needs of hurt children then they will become hurtful adults,” she said.
For 17 years, the Institute has put on the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace through Dorchester. The attendance has grown each year. This year Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was one of the 26 students and educators killed during the shooting in Newtown, Conn., spokes to the crowd about loving each other and spreading peace.
Chery said the growing numbers at peace events like the Mother’s Day walk gives her hope.
“Doing good is hard. We live in a culture that is reactionary because everything is a quick fix. Seeing change is a long-term investment … you don’t see the results next day,” she said.