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Reposted from Everyday Boston

Rachel Rodrigues, on what it’s like to work as Programs Director of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, a non-profit organization that supports family and friends of homicide victims and others affected by trauma:

“Truth lives here. Raw truth. The good, the bad, the wonderful, the spiritual. You’re gonna feel it. You’re gonna feel the truth of whatever you’re bringing.

You come as you are. You don’t have to hide any part of yourself. You might still feel like you need to, because that’s what we’re accustomed to—we’re not accustomed to going anyplace, and being able to be ourselves. But that’s what this place is. That’s the culture we’ve created.”

 

“I remember when I first started interning, I came in, and it was just like: this is the essence of community. We would be here til midnight, one o’clock in the morning sometimes, making buttons, making funeral programs. Because back then, you didn’t have printers that folded and stapled everything for you. So there was a crew of us—staff and volunteers and literally family, like Tina’s kids, Mario’s little sister, other people’s friends.

It was something that I had never really experienced before—everybody coming together. We had a job to do, and we would be here until it got done.

We would have an assembly line of hundreds of funeral programs—one person is putting them together in the order they’re supposed to go in, the next person is folding them. And we have very high standards of quality here, according to (Peace Institute president) Tina Chéry, so if you did not fold that right, you would be folding that again! We were very meticulous. Because you’re dealing with somebody’s loved one, who’s dead, and they’re trusting us to put together something so important. So we all had that shared understanding that we need to make it perfect.

They’re not just four page programs. They’re, like, 14 page programs. Because we really work with families to show who that person is. Not just: Okay, this person was born, this is where they lived, here’s all the relatives they’re leaving. It’s really like: Who are they? What is the impact that they had in this world? Because they sure nuff did have one. They had a real lot of impact on a whole lot of people—on communities of people.

So very long, story-like obituaries. And with poems from family members. Photos upon photos. I mean, people are full of life! And then some resources in the back, too, about what to say, what not to say.

So somebody would be folding corner to corner, edge to edge. Next person, putting the staples. And then the next person glued purple ribbons into every single program. Purple has become a symbol of peace—in Boston and beyond. So we would put the purple ribbons in, and then mourners were encouraged to either leave it in there as a bookmark in the program, or to take it off and tie it on their car antennae, or tie it somewhere as a symbol of peace. 

After the person hot glued the ribbon in was the final fold. Then you had a counter who was packaging them up. You do 10 for immediate family and for the person officiating. Then usually people are ordering them in the hundreds, so you break them down by 25.

We all had expertise in all the areas by the end.

The Peace Institute that I’ve come to know over the years, you get a lot of college students, especially young white women, come in, looking to do a paper, looking to research families whose loved ones were murdered, looking to understand what is gang violence. You know, all those questions. Of course that was the perception of me walking in. People give so much of their time and energy, giving of their life, and their personal story, and somebody takes and puts it in a research paper and then people never see them again.

But even after I graduated, I kept coming back. I used to work at a bridal shoe store out in Natick. My hours over there were 10-6. And when I got out of work, I used to come here and help out however I could. After a while people realized I wasn’t going anywhere.

It was just the community. And the love that I felt, too. You know, the kind of thing where somebody drops you off, they’re waiting until you get into your house. And that is very much a cultural thing that is here, that I didn’t experience where I’m from. I learned that, and I loved it, and I wasn’t leaving it. 

When I was 14, one of my relatives was killed. He was killed in a drunk driving accident. What I experienced is very different from what people in communities like Dorchester experience every day. But I felt some similarities.

One, from just being a young person who’d experienced trauma like that. And then it being a violent death. And then having to deal with the criminal justice system and all that crap after.

That experience changed me, so I already kind of was like a raw, young individual, looking for an experience like this, I would say. And when I came here, I was like: oh, this is a place that could hold me, and hold what I’m holding, you know?

And just like everybody else who comes through here: Something happens to you, you automatically want to help someone else. You just do.  Pain understands pain, and you feel like you have the capacity to just, like, be there.”

Interview and image by Gabbie Follett

NOTE: The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute was founded in 1994 by Tina Chéry, whose son Louis was killed in a gang shootout on his way to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting. He was an extraordinary young man; you can read about his life here.

Everyday Boston is a proud partner of the Peace Institute; conversations with staff inspired this project’s vision, and continue to strengthen it. As the Peace Institute celebrates the 15th annual Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month, we encourage you to get involved in their work in whatever way makes sense for you. 

Below, a bit more about the organization:

Our Mission: The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute serves as a center of healing, teaching and learning for families and communities dealing with murder, trauma, grief and loss.

Our Process: Committed to restorative justice theories, the Peace Institute provides programs, services & trainings that are thorough, relevant with a multi-cultural lens. To achieve our mission we provide:

Programs to instill peace in school and community settings
Support to survivors of homicide victims and the families of perpetrators and incarcerated people
Training of providers, professionals and faith leaders working with youth and families impacted by violence.
 

Our Belief: Peace is Possible.

Our Principles: Love | Unity | Faith | Hope | Courage | Justice | | Forgiveness.

Our Approach: Acknowledge, Listen, Collaborate, and Mobilize.

Our Philosophy: Reach people where they are on their journey in order to assist them and their family to become more involved in the change process.

The Peace Institute is located at 15 Christopher Street in Dorchester.