EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A group of young people, many still in high school, gathered this week to talk about gun violence. Many already know a victim.

“Most of the recent murders, I've known of them or known them personally through school,” said Donald Chamberlain, a student at UMSL.

Chamberlain wanted to combat the violence in his community, East St. Louis. He became a Peace Warrior, and is spending his summer training other teens how to be one as well.

“There needs to be change, and we can't wait for anybody else to make that change for us,” he said.

Teens are learning how to recognize signs of tension and how to de-escalate a situation before it becomes violent.

Last summer, a group of East St. Louis teens traveled to a Chicago neighborhood that also struggles with violence, North Lawndale. The group of Chicago teens adopted the Peace Warrior program and trained their East St. Louis counterparts. This summer, the East St. Louis Peace Warriors are training teens from Cahokia and East St. Louis.

“Especially teenagers are not used to talking their problems out, so we teach them talk out problems and avoid violence,” said Jasmine Bonner, a Peace Warrior.

The teens will then take their new skills to their high schools in the fall.

“Hopefully, grow a program in their high schools where being a Peace Warrior is cool, where it will be an alternative to violence,” said Sheila Burton, the executive director of Join Hands, a small non-profit aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty in East St. Louis. Join Hands runs the Peace Warriors program locally.

The group is guided by the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Not only avoid physical violence but avoid the internal violence, the hate within yourself,” Bonner said.

The teens are teaching each other that there is a better way.

“That's what we're trying to do, spread seeds throughout St. Louis,” Bonner said.

For more information, visit the Peace Warriors website.

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