Recently Sevak, Pradhan and Kevin visited the two Sri Chinmoy Peace Trees at the Edward Bailey and Leola Spann Community Garden in the Austin neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. The one pictured above was planted in 2011.
Every other year the month of July is characterized by ‘heightened activity’ in preparation for the arrival of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run international team in Chicago! The team brings its collective Message of Peace to eager children, youth and families in neighborhoods all over the city. Over the years, thousands have held the Peace Torch and made a wish for peace at Peace Run events.
Some of the most prominent activities are centered around a convocation of community members and children sharing peace at Chicago’s seven Sri Chinmoy Peace Trees. While Chicago headlines routinely count those who’ve succumbed to violence, Chicago’s Sri Chinmoy Peace Trees offer a message of peace and hope during these troubled times.
Located in neighborhoods of great need, these unique trees stand proudly as beacons of hope on busy streets, in a school yard, in city parks and at community centers.
Where are the seven trees located? Two are in the Austin community. The others are located at Wentworth Gardens,Hamlin Park, Edward N. Hurley Fine and Performing Arts Magnet Cluster School, South Shore Drill Team Headquarters, Major Adams Community Committee, and Gads Hill Center.
In 2011 the adoption of our Peace Tree by the Wentworth Gardens community in a particularly troubled public housing complex led to an amazing result. The city had recently closed four huge high-rise housing projects in different areas of the city. A significant portion of the displaced people moved to a newly renovated development of two unit row houses, bringing members of nine different gangs together. This led to weekly violence in the area, especially on summer weekends. The Wentworth Gardens’ community organization created a peace circle, which met regularly, surrounding the Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree. And, the community experienced a full year with no violence! The leaders proclaimed it was all due to their Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree. The incredible leader of the community at the time was Miss Halley Amey, who passed on months later. The tree is now dedicated in her honor.
One of Chicago’s public schools also completely embraced their Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree. Each year’s international festival includes a Peace Run program. One year the area police commander came and shared his personal commitment to pass by the tree each evening, invoking his hope for peace in the community.
Our Sri Chinmoy Peace Trees in Chicago’s Austin community are always visited by our Peace Runners along with our U.S. and Illinois congressional leaders, ministers, police representatives, the South Shore Drill Team and so many community leaders and members. One year, the local churches organized people to walk the street one evening each week, and each time they were able to visit the Peace Tree along the way. Now, former gang leaders and other dedicated Chicagoans work together to teach non-violence nearby.
Whether the Peace Tree is a magnificent maple, a graceful Japanese maple tree, or a ‘mighty’ little apple tree specially selected by children, it stands as a symbol of oneness, self-offering. generosity, progress, perseverance and humility.