This month POPP kicked off our
third annual “Character and Leadership Development” competition with six
competing football teams in Cobb, Fulton, and Gwinnett Counties. Each coach
selected sixteen team leaders and we meet once a week for eight weeks, as they
go through their Summer practices and workouts. The campaign culminates with a
community event where all the players and coaches, as well as families and
community leaders, will come together to reward and celebrate these young men
who are striving to become positive role models and use their influence for
peace in their classrooms, hallways, and communities.
Every day the players read quotes from iconic world changing athletes, and every week they meet with their POPP Squads and Power Partners to hold one another accountable, and work to complete the daily Action Challenges together. In the second half of the Protect the Dream campaign they will create a three-minute video on one of the “Seven Dream Killers” that they want to tackle at their school (bullying, irresponsible social media, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.) These videos will be featured at our POPP Graduation Celebration on August 11th at NorthStar Church, where all the teams will be competing for our “Dream Team” award given to the team who makes the most positive community impact. The players are also competing against one another for our biggest prize: The Mason Legacy Award for the outstanding character athlete. These videos will be circulated throughout the student body to show that there is a new standard that the student-athletes are striving to live up to and model for the young ones coming up after them.
This Summer we are also
bringing on teams from Selma, AL and Benton Harbor, MI. If we are going to turn
the dangerous tide of violence, self-harm, and risky behavior toward peace,
compassion, and acceptance in our schools, it must start with the students who
are already leading the way. Together, they can begin to shift school culture
and change “what cool looks like” on their campus.
This a powerful story that is hard to communicate in just a few words how amazing it really is, but I will try. Just three weeks ago fifty men in a tough Mexican prison began the Power of Peace Project’s “40 Days of Peace” Program. Many of these men are affiliated with gangs and cartels and many are rivals. In this prison, the men are packed twenty to a cell because it was built for 2500 but currently houses 5600 inmates. All these men went through the two day launch with us, signed the peace pledge, received the wristband and a journal, and committed to forty days of nonviolence– with daily journaling and action challenges, weekly small groups with their rivals, and a paper writing assignment that will precede a graduation celebration at the end of the project. In three short weeks this was an issue that came up this past week in the weekly meeting: out of the fifty men, only one man (named Julio) is not in a cell with any of the other POPP initiates. The cell he is packed into has no other POPP brothers and he is the only one with the wristband and journal—and he stands out. One of the brothers stood up and said: “Our brother Julio is all alone in his cell! What can we do to protect him?” My partner Jeff asked why he was in a cell all alone. They responded: “He’s not all alone, he just doesn’t have any Power of Peace brothers with him.” I am in awe. In three short weeks, these men are concerned that their brother is “all alone” because he is not surrounded by the POPP group. They have already owned it and are protecting it. Imagine what could happen over months and years… The Power of Peace.
Tonight at Hays State Prison the following story was told about Frank, one of our Power of Peace Leaders who was shipped out to another prison two weeks ago. One of our other POPP Brothers was there and witnessed it before he was sent back to Hays this week… The day that Frank arrived, he went to chow at the usual time. When he returned, he realized that somebody had stolen all his store goods out of his box– this is a very big deal, especially when you are new to a prison. There were about fifteen Hispanic inmates there who knew Frank from other prisons and who he is cool with. They decided they were ready to “go to war” to get his stuff back, as everyone knew who was behind the theft. Before anything could happen, Frank got all those men together and got his “40 Days of Peace” journal out and began to teach them the nonviolent principles he was practicing in the program, and how there were other alternatives to violence. The beef was settled nonviolently and now we have more men in yet another prison who are interested in the POPP Program…
The fascinating thing? Anyone can back down and “decide to be a peacemaker” when they’re afraid and outnumbered. But Frank had the muscle and the numbers to get his stuff back AND send a message, but he still chose peace. And he began leading the other inmates and modeling peace in the process. I’m so proud of him… The Power of Peace.
Right now the Power of Peace Project has convicts from Michigan, Georgia and California writing letters of encouragement and support to prisoners in a Mexican prison– challenging them to be peacemakers. In turn those inmates in Mexico are writing letters back encouraging their new POPP family to continue the Struggle. We also have recovering addicts in rehab facilities in the U.S. writing letters of encouragement and support to addicts in Tijuana recovery centers challenging them to continue the good fight. Next those men and women will write letters back providing updates on their recovery. We also have students at the University of Georgia making videos to encourage the Boys and Girls of Tijuana in high schools and colleges there to join the Power of Peace Movement. High School football players in GA are writing to soccer players in the toughest part of Tijuana to inspire them. While the world talks about walls and tunnels, POPP is building bridges of hope and peace between the nations. Help us continue this good work and be a part of the SOLUTION, rather than the arguments. The Power of Peace.