CHAMPAIGN — “Creating a more peaceful Champaign. A more peaceful Centennial. A more peaceful community.”
That’s what Centennial High School English teachers Jennifer Hindes and Jessica Hutchison hope to accomplish by taking 13 students on a Peace Pilgrimage to Atlanta for a two-day intensive nonviolence training seminar.
Hosted by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the students will be trained in Kingian Nonviolence, a philosophy of nonviolent conflict reconciliation based on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
For Hindes, the idea behind this trip can be summed up in one word.
“I was looking for hope. As a teacher, it’s really hard to answer questions that are unanswerable. ‘Why do people hate me? Why do we have global warming? What about police brutality?’” she said. “I don’t know. I’m one human. And it can feel really hopeless at times.”
From there, Hindes decided to research peace work and peaceful people who have come before us. And one small detail stood out: They all began their work at a young age, which prompted Hindes to ask, “How do we get young people involved in this movement of nonviolence and peace?”
The trip is hosted by Centennial’s after-school Empower club, which works to dismantle rape culture and gender-equality issues.
Most of the students heading to Atlanta today are members of Empower, but others volunteered, had violence impact their lives in some way or were nominated by school administrators.
With every trip comes a price tag, but Hindes said all participants have been actively raising funds to keep costs as low as possible. Every student attending is on a scholarship, so no one has to pay full price for the trip.
Overall, the students can’t wait.
“Something I’m looking forward to is being able to meet some of the people who are going with me on the trip ... and listening to their stories and experiences they’ve had with violence and how this can change it,” said Fatima Ramirez, a sophomore who also hopes to pass along what she’s learned to her siblings.
Paige Dixon, a freshman, hopes “to find a lot of strength in peace. ... I feel like the only time I feel really strong is when I’m violent or angry, and I want to be able to be like, ‘No, I can be peaceful,’ and really use that to my advantage.”
“I’m hoping to gain skills to defuse violent and possibly violent situations before they spark up,” said Ellison Radek, a sophomore. “Coming from Centennial, we see a lot of that, and so I want to be able to help out our community that way.
“I’m also really excited to go to the Civil Rights Museum, because I want to learn about our country’s history with peace and how we’ve gotten through the hardest times.”
After the students return, they’ll have the opportunity to meet with the school’s administration team and different community groups and leaders to share what they have learned.
The bus leaves from Centennial High School at 7:20 this morning and returns Sunday.
As for making the Peace Pilgrimage an annual trip, Hindes said:“I want this to grow. ... I want to bring 55 students, and that’s scary to say.
“This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done as a teacher. And I do big events at Centennial, but not like this.”