Editor’s note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, MJ Park, co-founder and co-director of Little Friends for Peace, reflects on where she has found peace in her own life. Little Friends for Peace is a nonprofit organization that empowers children and adults to solve problems nonviolently.
Little Friends For Peace has been working in the Sursum Corda neighborhood for the last 25 years. This is a housing project located in the heart of DC, sandwiched between the posh developments of NoMa and K Street. It looks almost out of place amid the clean and sleek high rises, and its name, meaning, “lift up your hearts,” could almost be perceived as an ironic joke. But at the core of this drab village is a radiant beacon, and this is where hope and beauty and joy of life are bolstered.
A very loving woman named Ann lives in one of the apartments there. Throughout the years, she has become a special friend of mine and a true peace partner of Little Friends For Peace.
Ann used to teach at the local public school as a special education teacher. She is now out on disability and is often confined to her bed, but she has not let this limit her social impact nor her capacity to love.
Despite her bad heart and diabetes, the ever smiling and optimistic Ann invests her time and miraculous abundance of energy in care and love for the children of the neighborhood. From the confines of her bed, in what the community has come to know as her “Cozy Room,” Ann has lovingly and compassionately raised four generations of Sursum Corda residents by providing snacks, encouragement, Christmas presents, company, homework help, a listening ear, and a sense of family.
On any given day, it’s not uncommon to find a cluster of 10 kids—from two-year-olds to high schoolers—gathered on her haven of a bed. If you venture into her room, which has become something of a community center, you will notice an entire wall wallpapered in photographs of the children she’s raised—and their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children.
She has become an arbiter of trite childhood fights, a tutor, a grandmother figure, and a source of love and peace in an often-violent environment.
Gandhi asserted that violence will end where love begins, and it’s beginning in the Cozy Room on the big bed with Ann’s loving heart.
She reminds me often that true peace building is in investing in relationships and connecting heart to heart—having compassion for one another. It is in serving as a refuge for hopeless spirits, in comforting them, and in teaching them joy.
Question for reflection: How can you be a source of love and peace for others?
MJ Park is the Co-Director of Little Friends For Peace. She is a peace educator with over 35 years of experience leading year-round programs for children and adults. She has set up peace programs in schools and communities around the world. MJ and her husband Jerry are proud parents of 6 children, and in both raising their family and in their work, they believe that peace is a way of life.
Featured image: adaptation of photo by Wikimedia user Tumblerut – Creative Commons.