Spreading the Peace Bug in Inner-City DC
- an interview by Mary Liepold
For the 27 years when she worked with special education students at Walker-Jones Elementary, on the un-powerful side of Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill, they called her Miss Little. Now that she serves unofficially, without pay, as the lap, hands, and heart of her residential community, she’s ‘Nana’ to the children and Ann to the adults. You’ll find her outside in almost any weather, kids buzzing and clustering around her chair and neighbors stopping by just to check in.
On a recent June day, Ann and MJ Park of Little Friends for Peace have gathered a dozen children for a Peace Circle. Jerry Park, four boys, and one small girl are weeding the narrow garden. When the Circle ends and the kids scatter, she talks with me while keeping invisible antennae trained on them. “Come down from there,” she directs the boys who have started to climb on a dumpster. “Don’t go too far,” she calls after several more. By the time we finish, a small brigade is carrying pitchers and pots in and out of her open door to water the plants they’ve been tending.
Who are you, Ann? How do you define yourself?
I consider myself one of the most loved, loving, and caring persons to all kids and grownups. I respect everyone’s feelings. The kids know I love them, so they just come around. That makes me feel wanted, and the parents―lawyers, teachers, all kinds of parents―feel the kids are safe around me. There’s no doubt in their minds.
MJ tells me you’re a very important part of Little Friends for Peace. How would you describe your role?
I do my role as a partner with MJ and Jerry to make sure that every kid knows to respect the feelings of others, to care, share, and love each other. These are things I was taught by MJ, who has been a great influence on me in teaching me so I can teach the kids.
What attracted you or inspired you to work with Little Friends?
I was working with another recreation program in the city and I went to a Little Friends peace session at St. Al’s church. I could tell they really care about kids and I really care about kids, so we just clicked.
Tell me about a particular day or a particular event that made you feel really good.
One day two girls got into an argument. They came right to me and said, “Nana, we don’t know what to do.” I said. “Put on your thinking caps. Now, what would MJ tell you to do?”
“She’d say STOP and talk about it.” And they did, and they became the best of friends.
I always pick two kids who argue and make them partners, so they spend all day together and they have to work it out.
What would it take to get more of that?
We just need to keep on spreading the bug. I know I’m going to keep spreading it, and as long as MJ and Jerry’s light is shining, my light is going to shine through them because they are so inspirational. I want everyone to know it only takes a few minutes to give your love and care and to make sure the kids are OK.
What makes your heart heavy?
Do you see that little boy right there? This is his father’s picture on the button I’m wearing. He was my nephew. His mom put him in my arms when he was 10 months old and I raised him. He was a Peace Kid, one who came here and joined the circles with MJ, and he was trying to figure out how to live it as an adult. He had two jobs, two kids, he was a rapper, and he was brutally murdered a few years ago. We had candlelight vigils, the kids talked about it for a few weeks, and then things went back to being the same.
What lifts your heart?
Look at his son José, and how he shines. Look how they all shine! It’s that God has given me this gift of being with the children. My daughter is a daycare teacher and she’s very committed to peace values too. She sings some of MJ’s songs with her kids. I am so grateful that I have come into the lives of MJ and Jerry Park!
I see a lot of water being spilled. Does the mess bother you?
The kids will clean up. They’re great about picking up toys too. They spread things everywhere, so when a lot of them are in the house you can’t even walk on the floor. When it’s time to clean up I just tell them it’s time, and everything goes back into its place. They know just what to do!
I wrote a poem one day when they were all inside. As the poem says,
I know that I must be blessed
to be sitting upon this mess.
Follow Peace X Peace (@PeaceXPeace) on Twitter.
The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.