On Saturday, May 2nd, students from three different greater Seattle area high schools volunteered with Global Peace Youth and the Lynnwood Police Department to paint over graffiti left behind on a stretch of neighborhood fences covering several city blocks caused by months of repeated vandalism. Although neighborhood residents suspect gang activity, the motivation behind these continuous streaks of property damages remains unknown. Besides tarnishing the presentation of a community, the graffiti was in many ways a demonstration of the prevalent conflict that has arisen from a diverse group of people associating themselves with specific identities at the expense of others in their community. Whatever the cause, through this simple project, local residents and volunteers were inspired to uplift this neighborhood as a representation of the city and their dignity as citizens who could expand their definition of what it means to be a “neighbor”.
“Peace happens through the relationships we build, not just through the physical project.”
The spirit of community was captured right away when, upon reaching the location, the high school volunteers were greeted by a local home owner who raised her hands and shouted with gratitude, “Our neighbors are here!”
Residents reacted with surprised smiles when police officers approached their door to ask what color they would like the volunteers to coat over their graffiti-covered fences. Curious neighborhood bystanders turned into painters as they picked up a brush, eager to help the hard-working students and community volunteers.
In an insular national and global community, people tend to side against each other according to their racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. However, one student pointed out that under a common goal, when people like those here start talking to each other, a project can suddenly become more efficient; getting done faster and leaving the participants happier. He described how good it felt to work with so many people saying, “Peace happens through the relationships we build, not just through the physical project.”
Throughout the morning of painting, different neighbors came out to offer treats, encouragement, and another helping hand. Just before wrapping up, one of the local residents was abruptly inspired to get a cup from his house, scoop up paint, and walk over to go to a neighbor’s house a couple blocks away who didn’t get his full fence covered. A GPY volunteer commented on why even a simple project like this one can mean so much in the bigger picture saying, “The environment is important because it determines the atmosphere. I try to pick up trash at my school to be clean but now I think it means more, even in a spiritual way. When we painted together, it brought us together; the police and neighbors and all of us.” Whether it is a literal neighborhood or an assembly of people based on their religion, race, culture, or any other label, we have the power to bridge these communities under a common vision that brings a higher quality of life to everyone. The more time we take to engage in dialogue and work with the people around us, the more we understand our commonality as people who care about our human integrity and dignity. The world is made up of innumerable neighborhoods full of different people from countless backgrounds. Understanding will not come about overnight, but we can start the conversation by crossing our street.
This project was accomplished with the collaboration of Global Peace Youth-US, the Lynnwood Police Department, the Lynnwood PD Explorers, and the Lynnwood Citizens Patrol.
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