There have been at least 70 mass shootings across America since 1982, according to a recent Mother Jones article. Even in New York City, where violent crime has dropped since its peak in 1990, shootings have increased by 13 percent since January 1 of this year, the Huffington Post reports.
But this weekend at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, a group of anti-violence activists insisted that peace, as a way of life, is possible.
On June 28, Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) and BK Nation, a national organization that promotes community activism, hosted the inaugural Peace is a Lifestyle conference. The conference, which drew community members, activists, students, educators, and more, tackled serious societal issues including gun violence, hate crimes, bullying, and violence against women and girls.
“In the wake of violent acts taking place both here and around the world, people in our communities are feeling hopeless,” said Priscilla Dyer, GSS special projects administrator. “We are increasingly aware of the violence, but unaware of the groundbreaking work that’s being done in the anti-violence movement.”
Keynote speaker Kevin Powell, president and co-founder of BK Nation, called violence a “public health” issue in New York City and throughout the country.
Recent large-scale incidents, such as the mass shootings in California and Oregon, have spotlighted this issue. However, violence is not a new phenomenon in America, Powell said.
“This country was founded on violence,” he said. “The Native Americans were victims of genocide, and violently removed from their lands… African people were kidnapped and brought across the ocean for the sake of building the country’s economic infrastructure.”
Current cultural attitudes wrongly make violence seem unavoidable, said Imran Siddiquee, communication director for The Representation Project, a movement that uses film and media to expose injustices.
Siddiquee discussed via Skype the dynamics that contribute to gender-based violence in particular. The project’s first film, Miss Representation, argued that the mainstream media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls contributes to the underrepresentation of American women in positions of power and influence.
The group’s newest film, The Mask You Live in, goes a step further by uncovering the male stereotypes that beget such discrimination.
“Men are told… that what makes us valuable is anything that isn’t feminine,” Siddiquee said. “If being a woman is being caring, compassionate, and nurturing, then for men it’s none of that—rather, it’s being aggressive, strong, stoic, and dominating others, oftentimes women.”
These attitudes not only can lead to violence against women and girls specifically, but also can trigger acts of mass violence.
“To think men should lead emotionally bereft lives is not only strange and sad, but dangerous,” he said. “A lot of men feel lost, or feel like outsiders, and many of them resort to more and more violent ways of expressing that.”
In order to embrace peace, Powell said, we must speak frankly about the violence—be it physical, verbal, or emotional—that has polluted our individual lives and our collective history.
“If we’re going to be serious about peace as a lifestyle, we have to be serious about telling the truth,” Powell said. “We need to be willing to go inside ourselves and ask, ‘Where did I come from? Why, in spite of [all I know], do I engage in behavior that’s anything but peaceful toward people?’
“If we are serious about changing this world, then the way we relate to each other has to be rooted in peace and life.”
The conference featured performances by poet Nichole Acosta and singer Hendii, and a panel discussion moderated by Edgar Tyson, Ph.D., associate professor at GSS.
Also present was anti-violence activist Erica Ford. Ford, who coined the phrase “Peace is a Lifestyle,” is the founder of LIFE Camp, a nonprofit dedicated to intervening in street disputes, speaking at schools, and providing counseling services.