Charles McClain, 9, a student at Fisher Magnet Lower Academy, speaks in front of students and staff, during “A Day of Peace and Healing” held by the Detroit Public Schools Community District. (Ethan Bakuli / Chalkbeat)

“What do we want?”

This story also appeared in Chalkbeat Detroit

“Peace and healing!”

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

Hundreds of elementary and middle school students from Detroit’s Fisher Magnet Lower and Upper Academies marched out of their classrooms Thursday afternoon, chanting as they convened in a grassy area that separates the two school buildings.

Across the Detroit Public Schools Community District, students and staff paused from their school day to encourage peace.

“A Day of Peace and Healing,” was created to acknowledge the trauma and tragedies students have experienced at school or at home and help students and staff come together to address it. From coloring activities, spoken word sessions, jazz performances, and commitments to end bullying and fighting, the day was centered on bringing students together around a common cause.

The first-time event comes out of the district’s partnership with grassroots organization Code 22, which has for over a decade called on Detroiters to recognize the 22nd day of every month as a day of peace, where community members can wear white or participate in prayer services and acts of service.

At one event at Fisher Magnet Lower Academy, student Charles McClain, 9, spoke about his uncle who died two years ago. Charles encouraged his peers to stay positive despite the tragedies they may experience in their personal lives.  

“Peace and healing — it’s how you respect others and (practice) forgiveness. No gun violence, no knife violence…no violence in general,” Charles said.

Detroit’s 48205 ZIP code, where the Fisher Magnet schools are located, has among the highest crime rates in the city. Fisher Magnet Lower principal Shekitra Green says the ZIP code’s notoriety leaves an impact on her students.

“You can turn on the news or have a little app and you can see 48205 is always on the news for something,” Green said, adding that she hopes these kinds of events can encourage students to act with kindness toward their peers.

“That’s what our young people are brought up on. But when they come here, we have to re-train them and show them there is hope, there is healing. If we can teach them here they can go out and teach the world.”

The day’s event also touched on the impact of the pandemic. Roughly a quarter of a million children in the United States have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID during the pandemic as of this past spring.

Gemauri Moore, 9, shared with his peers the impact of the loss of his grandfather, who died earlier this year due to COVID.

“Peace really means to me to get all the strength and the life that you’ve been through out of your body so you can start anew,” Gemauri said.  

District spokesperson Chrystal Wilson said that officials hope to encourage students to continue to wear white on the 22nd of each month as a reminder to promote peace, and direct families toward mental health resources available at their schools.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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