Minutes before renowned spiritual leader, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was about to fly from Europe to the USA, his phone rang. He was on his way to Washington, D.C. for multiple private and public events, including a gathering of Congressional leaders and veterans of war on Capitol Hill.
A key volunteer with the Art of Living Foundation, was on the other line. She was urgently seeking Sri Sri’s presence at a gathering of community leaders, to address the civil unrest and violence in Baltimore, Maryland, following the death of a 25-year old African American man, who died under police supervision. In spite of an incredibly hectic schedule over two short days in Washington, Sri Sri readily agreed.
Chaotic civil unrest had reached its peak in the aftermath of the April 19th arrest and subsequent death, of, Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr., who had been arrested for what police alleged, was an illegal switchblade. He had fallen into a coma while being transported in a police van, from spinal cord injuries sustained during transport and died on April 19th .
Mr. Gray’s death resulted in ongoing protests and civil disorder throughout the city of Baltimore. His funeral had taken place the day before Sri Sri’s arrival in DC, and by the time his plane landed, the intense civil unrest in Baltimore had escalated to a fever pitch. Intense looting was taking place, along with the burning of local businesses, arrests and numerous injuries among citizens and police.
The Governor of Maryland declared a state of emergency calling in the National Guard and invoking a night curfew to protect its citizens.
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
I had the honor to attend the intimate gathering of community leaders and youth activists hosted by the International Association for Human Values (www.iahv.org) with the Art of Living Foundation (www.artofliving.org). It was held at the International Center for Peace and Meditation in Washington D.C, founded by Sri Sri.
The gathering began with a young entrepreneur who shared his experience from that evening, when the most intense looting and violence had taken place in Baltimore. He handed out water, urged people to calm down, helped to clean up the aftermath and slept in his store that night to keep looters away.
He believes the unequal distribution of government resources for small business owners, particularly African Americans, is adding to the cycle of poverty and violence in Baltimore.
A dynamic and charismatic young man, with a confident and peaceful presence said that he feels the violence in Baltimore started long before Freddie Gray’s arrest and death under police custody; it’s the result of 400 years of oppression toward the African American community, which was never taken into account when the country was formed. He added that he’s ready and willing to help lead the way for positive social change, through peaceful means.
Sri Sri listened intently, giving everyone a chance to share his/her perspective on the current situation, which seemed to create a space of trust and respect.
A young and VERY articulate woman felt the media was creating a sensational and false picture of the community. She had observed the media filming abandoned areas of the city, during the night curfew imposed by the Governor, in order to create a false sense of fear. She had seen parents and family members being harassed by police officers while trying to walk their children safely home.
A middle-aged woman echoed the same. She asked Sri Sri to help the children to overcome the trauma of the civil unrest by sharing some of his meditation and breathing techniques with the community.
“I’m glad you brought this up. This is a very important point,” Sri Sri emphasized. “We must take care of the children as we go forward.” He also referenced the stress and trauma relief programs for Criminal Justice officials his foundation has conducted in Washington, D.C.,
and other cities throughout the USA.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
I was a little girl in the 1960’s during the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement in America. For years, I watched news images of peaceful protests, young men returning in coffins from war, violent riots and protesting students attacked by tear-gas on campus.
It was a frightening time.
I’ll always remember the day JFK was assassinated, followed by Robert Kennedy Junior and Martin Luther King. All three lives cut short as they strove to bring about civil rights in the USA. I never imagined 50 years later, I’d witness even more violence across our country, and the world.
HAPPINESS ON THE HORIZON
Everyone seemed at home as meaningful and open dialogue easily flowed. The seeds for a happier and more peaceful Baltimore were planted, and afterward, volunteers went right to work.
True service is when you don’t even know you’re doing it – you see the need and simply respond, because it is your nature. This is the highest service, and it’s exactly what happened when Baltimore youth, activists and community leaders, together with IAHV, organized numerous breathwork and meditation sessions throughout Baltimore. The following year, a Youth Leadership Retreat was organized at the Art of Living Foundation’s Retreat Center in Boone, North Carolina.
The transformation among the Baltimore youth and leaders at the retreat, was nothing short of phenomenal.
But…it’s best to hear it, in their own powerful words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYT8VSHHi3A&t=89s
While a pocket of youth and community leaders continue planting seeds of peace throughout the Baltimore community, the U.S. Department of Justice launched, a full-scale civil rights investigation into Baltimore's police department. As of May, 2017, Several Baltimore police officers involved in the Freddie Gray case are facing termination after an internal investigation found they committed administrative violations in their handling of the 25-year-old’s death, according to reports.
HOW YOU CAN MAKE THE MESSAGE OF NON-VIOLENCE HEARD LOUD & CLEAR ABOVE THE NOISE OF VIOLENCE.
- As an educator, youth or parent, support programs in school, that provide education on how to safely release stress and nurture human values such as kindness, compassion, sincerity and a sense of belonging. www.iahv.org
- As a veteran, family member or concerned citizen, support programs proven to alleviate stress and trauma, without the use drugs. www.projectwelcomehometroops.com
- As a global citizen, learn how to meditate and take responsibility for your own mind and emotions in order to foster greater peace and happiness in yourself, your family and community. www.artofliving.org
- As a business leader, get engaged and partner with like-minded organizations to facilitate global dialogue and skillful action, to build wider public trust in business through corporate ethics based in human values and social responsibility. www.wfeb.org