United States 18 August: Chicago

Chicago Peace Trees and Peace Messages

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.

May 2018, Three generations holding the Peace Torch, Austin neighborhood.

At a special ceremony in 2018, Sevak speaks of the hard work that went into this Community Garden from the Green Team in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago's West Side. This newly developed garden is home to the two Austin Sri Chinmoy Peace Trees. Sevak also works tirelessly in some of the community projects such as Exodus, the youth drum and bugle corps.

"I am so fortunate to participate each year in organizing the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run in Chicago. Because of Sri Chinmoy’s encouragement for all citizens of the world to be students of peace, I understand that I do not need to worry or be fearful of all that is happening in the world today.
It hurts me deeply to experience the world-situation that I see. There is so much anger. I feel sad that people do not realize we must reach deep within. People of all faiths must continually reach for love, peace and unity, and then express this to the world.
I am walking in a peace and love within my heart that I wish to share with others. Many others experience this peace and love for all our sisters and brothers of the world. We are not being affected by the current situation because we have something on the inside that is helping us to cope with what is on the outside. I would be happy to help others find that peace within.
Welcoming the Peace Run in Chicago is sorely missed this year since it affects so many people in many neighborhoods of our city. Thousands of kids, adolescents and adults pass the Peace Torch. It brings forward so much joy. The smiles are so heartwarming. The children are so proud! And now the world needs it more than ever.
My gratitude to Sri Chinmoy for the Peace Run and for my opportunity to continue to grow in peace is unbounded."
Sevak Edward James

In 2018 Commander Cato offers his inspirational wisdom to the gathering, stressing the importance of community and involving the youth in meaningful activities.

In 2018 Pastor Charles Gordon offers his peace and prayers to the second Austin Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree, dedicated to Reverend Flowers, who had dedicated his life to the service and improvement of his community, particularly the youth.

We are very grateful to the honorees and youth for inspirational work they do to bring peace and safety to the Austin community and other districts in Chicago.

The Peace Tree planting at Hurley School in June 2012.

"During this time of tremendous civil unrest involving gun violence, looting, increased gang activity and the onset of COVID-19, the Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree planted in front of the Major Adams Community Committee has taken on added importance.

The tree was planted in honor of our founder James "Major" Adams. He helped to bring peace to our community as well as assisted others in finding peace in their lives. The tree is a living symbol of his life work. Current and past residents and friends often come to the tree as a place of comfort and inspiration when experiencing periods of difficulty in their lives.

The Peace Run which graced our community twice in the past five years, brought great pride to our neighborhood as we honored residents contributing to the peace in our community. The Henry Horner/West Haven Community is extremely proud to be welcomed into the family of a worldwide organization promoting Peace!"

Ken Butler
Major Adams Community Committee Director

Thanks to Dave McNaughton and so many others who are inspired to improve our communities, and increase the peace.

"I have been fortunate to attend two gatherings of the Sri Chinmoy Peace Run and Peace Tree plantings here in Chicago. The last I attended was a joyful celebration in the Austin neighborhood that is located in Chicago’s West Side where I once served as a police officer. What once was a vacant lot strewn with overgrown weeds and garbage is now a beautiful community space the center of which contains the Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree. A space of urban blight transformed into an oasis of peace that is maintained by the community.

Although we can’t gather as we have done in years past, we can take a moment to pause, reflect and then move forward together much like this beautiful space in the Austin neighborhood. Amid pandemic, protests of police brutality, and continuous gun violence that plague our neighborhoods you would think that our hearts and minds are like that old vacant lot, a space for weeds and garbage. But as we celebrated just two years ago the planting of that Peace Tree, we too were given the seeds of a prayer for the growth of our beloved community. And as the Peace Tree grows and spreads beauty in Austin, so does the work of the many participants who were present on that day the tree was commemorated. Despite the plentiful pain and suffering that we lament and are determined to change, we must take time to celebrate the transformation of our hearts. There are so many in Austin who not only work to maintain a community space but work on changing hearts and minds in order to build the beloved community.

I am celebrating today that gift of peace that we all shared on that summer day two years ago at Chicago and Mayfield Avenue".

Dave McNaughton,
Retired Austin Police Officer.

Some of the 2018 members of the South Shore Drill Team with the 2018 North American Peace Run in the Austin Community Garden.

"We are missing our dear friends from the Peace Run and wishing for a more peaceful world everywhere they travel".

Sara Vlajcic, South Shore Drill Team & Performing Arts Ensemble members.

(This picture is from when the 2018 Peace Run team met with the South Shore Drill Team. A flourishing Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree grows right in front of their headquarters.)

In 2014 Director of the South Shore Drill Team, Arthur Robertson, happily helps in the planting of the peace tree here in front of their headquarters.

The members offer their peace pledges as they hang them on the Peace Tree in 2018.

In 2018 at Major Adams the torch is passed as soil is placed on the newly planted Peace Tree by Crystal Palmer, CHA Assistant Director of Resident Engagement. Other community leaders such as Calvin Jenkins (right) at the Major Adams Center.

The Hurley School Tree growing over the years, being decorated with Peace wishes on ribbons.

"Hamlin Park Staff, parents and children would like to wish everyone around the world Peace, Love, Hope and Happiness.”
-Juan Guerrero, Hamlin Park

Pictured is the Hamlin Park tree decorated with messages for Peace.

In 2018, in Hamlin Park, the children voted between two trees in the park to pick as a Peace Tree. This small tree won overwhelmingly over a much larger tree nearby.

The Peace Tree represents and reminds us of the self-giving qualities such as shade, fruit, beauty and patience. Our team here represents a great variety of countries and cultures just as trees come in many different shapes and forms.

We thank all of these wonderful peace lovers who welcomed us to Wentworth Gardens in 2018.

Beatrice Harris (in the middle) and her two daughters, Vickie Harris and Sandra Collins, who volunteer at City Hall and other community buildings to help their mom in her work for improving the various communities, including Wentworth Gardens.

Two children reading the plaque at the Sri Chinmoy Peace Tree in front of the Wentworth Gardens office and recreation area.

Community Groups hold the Peace Torch.

Chicago Police Officers hold the Peace Torch.

Pictured are crafted peace flowers by Chicago children during the Hamlin Park Peace Tree dedication in 2019.

Some messages of peace from Chicago Peace Runners:

"May we all come together as one for peace”
-Mudavati Arksey

"A week after the planning a letter arrived. The child wrote: "I will never forget that I helped to plant a tree, a PEACE Tree. I will always think of my peace growing"
-Kevin Carroll

“We wish everyone would take a moment to meditate on peace”
-Ranganath and Aditi Carnahan

As the countless drops
Of the boundless ocean
Or the myriad leaves
Of a huge banyan tree
Peacefully remain side by side,
Even so, all human beings
Will someday live side by side
In a perfect oneness-world.
-Sri Chinmoy