By William Jones

Creating a culture of peace rather than simply silencing the violence was the overall theme of the June 1 TURN UP For Peace event. The goals of the event were to create a safe nurturing space to encourage perception shifts among youth that encourage community, and “changing the narrative” that influences the behavior of inner city youth.  The event featured workshops on healthy living, peaceful conflict resolution, free food and edutainment, encouraging community building and healthier cultural expression.

The sponsors were Markese Bryant, a Morehouse College graduate, hip-hop artist and green advocate, Oakland Unity High School, The Urban Peace Movement and United Roots which jointly sponsor a permanent group for young Black men called Determination. In addition to the healthy living workshops (raw food and raw juice tastings) were mural painting and a space for the bike community

Kevin Jackson, Oakland Food Connection’s program coordinator, serves the East Oakland community as a nutritional educator and food justice advocate by running an organic farm stand at 78th and McArthur on Saturday mornings, providing access to quality food in low access neighborhoods. While serving organic fruit smoothies, he stressed the connection between healthy nutrition, and promoting self worth and brotherhood among other youth.

Ashel Eldridge, an organizer with United Roots and founder of SOL Juice, travels to various community functions with his solar powered juices as part of the growing social-justice-environmental movement. On the theme of the culture of violence being rooted in the lack of self-love, “What’s attacking the community, manifesting in the internal conditions of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are the result of the same systems of oppression that externalize as police violence and poverty,” Eldridge said. There’s a direct connection between health and wealth. What we put into our bodies contributes to violence. To cope with systematic oppression, one must be focused and clear.  The skillful combining of raw foods tone the body and contribute to clarity.

Later in the afternoon, we were treated to edutainment. There were many intergenerational speakers; most notable was Jerry “BIG G” Elster, a man who spent 27 years in prison for engaging in gang activity. While in prison he earned two college degrees. Wondering out loud why he wasn’t influenced in this direction as a youth, he stressed the need for a culture shift among youth with the need to respond to life and live by core values. He went on to tell the crowd if you put all the blame on “the system” you give away your power, and with it the ability to own your actions and take responsibility for the direction your life takes.

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