By Markus Williams
In the Central American Republic of Honduras, a light came into this world. Deciding to turn her anger and pain into agents of transformation Clementina Chѐry would go on to become one of the greatest vessels of change this world has produced. Standing on the side of love, peace and reconciliation she has become “A Light of Change”.
Her early memories of Honduras are ones of freedom, living and dancing in the center of life. The community afforded her the opportunity to roam her surroundings without fear as she ate from the bounty that dressed her landscape. It was a healthy organic existence that sadly would be short lived. She would soon move to New York where she would not even be allowed to leave the stoop outside of her front door. Clementina felt she had lost her freedom.
She did not immediately fit into her new environment as neither her Afro-American or Latino classmates sent a welcoming committee. However, in the midst of this upheaval in her young life she discovered she possessed a unique ability to change her environment. Because she spoke both Spanish and English Clementina set out to be a bridge between the two cultures by tutoring her Spanish speaking friends in English and her English speaking friends in Spanish. This would be her first act as an agent of change, but it wouldn’t be her last.
Clementina’s journey would eventually take her to Boston, Massachusetts where she became a wife and a mother of three. At the center of her life was her deep faith and a family she loved. She believed that her faith would protect her and her family as long as she “believed” and did what was “right”. It was very clear to her that bad things happen to ….”those people”…..because of their decisions. In short, they brought it on themselves. As is the case with many people who are religious, she thought she was doing enough by nurturing her limited vision of righteousness and her soon to be challenged understanding of the work of God.
Louis D. Brown was Clementina’s first child. He was ahead of his time. He was elegant, confident and long before Barack Obama was in the picture,Louis wanted to become the first black president. He was a smart and intelligent young man in a culture where it was not only unpopular to be smart, it was also unexpected. In 1993 at the age of 15 Louis responded to the needs of his environment by joining Teens Against Gang Violence, a place for teens with the view that peace and justice should be our language of life. By joining this group he not only hoped to reduce the violence in his community, he also hoped to change the image that accompanies African American youth. Louis would often say “I want young people I went to school with, and from my community to be active in my government. However, if things don’t change, I’ll be alone in the White House; because by the time I become president, my peers will all be dead, addicted to drugs or in jail.” Sadly, in that same year in the shadow of Christmas he would be robbed of his 16th birthday. On his way to a Teens Against Gang Violence Christmas party, Louis D. Brown was murdered fighting against the very element that would take his life. An innocent young man full of promise and potential was caught in the middle of senseless violence, a violence that for too many young people of color is a constant soundtrack for their young lives.
In the aftermath of his death, voices from the community, including the media questioned if Louis was in a gang, did he have a criminal record or what had he done to contribute to the tragic ending of his life. These questions were immediate and in solidarity with those who profit from keeping alive such stereotypes. Five days before Christmas, in the midst of messages of peace and goodwill, the eyes of Clementina Chѐry were opened as to how we treat each other. She not only saw the violence from one human being to another, she also saw something else that would equally contribute to the arch of her life. She saw people standing on the sidelines narrating the story based on their preconceived ideas of the characters in this tragic chapter of her life. She knew there needed to be a major shift in the mind set of people and so once again Clementina set out to be a bridge of understanding and compassion; uniting those who found themselves standing on different corners at the intersection of life’s tragedies.
Not wanting the memory of her son’s life to be forgotten Clementina approached the Boston Public Schools with the desire to do a display on his life. It was during this time that the idea of using his life as a teaching tool arose. Clementina wisely realized that when a life is taken an entire community suffers. Lives are forever altered leaving the entire community standing in the need of healing. In 1994, as a response to this need, Clementina Chѐry created The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute as a place promoting healing and learning. Using the principles of love, unity, faith, hope, courage, justice and forgiveness the organization educates young people and the community on the language of peace. It uses that language to embrace the families on both sides of a homicide. The Institute stands as a bridge uniting people with the belief that there is only one true side and we are all on it.
This was not her problem until it came knocking at her door. When she answered that knock she was introduced to a better interpretation of her faith. Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. We are all interconnected with each of us having value and basic human worth. We are all members of The Human Symphony.
We celebrate you Clementina Chѐry. By standing on the side of love, peace and reconciliation you continue to be a bridge and a light of change.