It has been a packed spring and early summer: numerous speeches on my book, Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America, including a speech for the Faith and Politics Institute in Congress, travel to California to help direct the 13-City Gang Prevention Network, and presentations at a variety of conferences.
The highlight of all this was the Reclaiming Youth International (www.reclaiming.com) annual Spirit of Crazy House Award Ceremony, held in the Black Hills of South Dakota on June 23rd. I won the award several years ago. This year I was asked to emcee the proceedings.
Two stories, both testaments to the power of an individual vision to transform the landscape—literal and social—will forever endure. Korczak Ziolkowski, orphaned at one, abused and finally discovering fame as an international sculptor, dreamed the largest stone sculpture in the world. He built a memorial to Crazy Horse, one of Native America’s greatest generals, a warrior who bedeviled America’s troops, and who, seeing his people broken and weary, sued for peace, only to be stabbed in the back under a flag of truce. The sculpture, not to be believed (www.crazyhorse.org), is so large that the face measures nine stories, the nostril of the horse stretches 30 feet in diameter; Crazy Horse’s outstretched arm is the length of a football field, and his brow alone easily containsall four of Mount Rushmore’s presidents. Korchak began on the mountain in 1948 with $20.00. Of this, $18.00 went to buy his fiancée’s wedding ring. Ruth, his widow, is a joyous woman of 82 who bore 10 children, all of whom work on the unfinished mountain—some on the rock, some in the gift shop, others in the educational wing and some developing the medical and school complexes.
At the ceremony, I met a previous award winner, Azim Khamisa from San Diego, father of a son who was murdered during a “pizza-jacking” (phone in the wrong address, then attack the delivery man for pizza and the money), author of From Murder to Forgiveness. Crushed by despair and anger, Azim slowly came to realize that grief and desire for retribution were crushing him. He “needed to find something I could do for him…. The grief had to be broken for both our sakes. Grief alone could not give meaning to his death. Something good had to be done, and it had to be done in his name, inspired by him.”
Azim sought out and met Plese, grandfather of the murderer, and together they tell their stories to awestruck audiences, for both have lost sons, one murdered, the other jailed. “…seek revenge; get an eye for an eye? But what would that accomplish? Would it bring Tariq back?” asks Azim. “It would only continue the violence that took Tariq’s life. Answering violence with violence won’t change anything” (from his book, p.103). An international investment banker, Azim subsequently established the TKF—Tariq Khamisa Foundation to provide violence prevention education—the Violence Impact Forums— with sets of questions designed to identify children’s attitudes toward violence, personal safety, peer relationships, vengeance and plans for their lives. Studies of his “Forums” show there is a substantial drop in the percentage of kids who would seek violent revenge for a violent act. “We need to get enough people committed as individuals to attain a critical mass,” he says, “and stop all the wrong, all the violence.”
The 13 California City Gang Prevention Network I’m helping to run is based on each city developing a comprehensive, inclusive plan, a plan that asks all civic entities to play a part in helping to create communities that don’t produce gang violence. The changes are, in the main, structural—tackling truancy, unemployment, family disfunction, unmentored youth and the like—but unless the fire of commitment is lit in an individual heart, as it was so improbably lit in an orphan and foster-care kid from Boston and an Indian immigrant financier who lost a son, the changes will remain structural, not personal. Both are needed, and each influences the other. Simple goals: one to carve the largest stone sculpture in the world, the other to stop violence.
If Korczak and Azim can so dare, we can at the very least commit ourselves to chip away.