When someone dies by gang violence in Buffalo, grief volunteers like Lesley Haynes knock on the victim’s mother’s door, hold her hand and help her navigate paperwork. Haynes and other volunteers at Stop the Violence Coalition are the ones who organize the candlelight vigil, attend the funeral and stay in that mourning mother’s life as long as she needs them to.
It’s heavy stuff. But don’t tell Haynes that.
“What we do can’t be negative because we’re giving love and support to the family,” said Haynes, sitting at a Stop the Violence booth at the Peace Justice Nonviolence Festival & Walk Sunday.
If you ask Haynes, the festival – with its laughter, music and fellowship – better showcases the spirit and intention of what she and other volunteers do.
The third annual peace festival, billed as a day of inspiration, celebration and action, brought 115 organizations together at Canalside to call for an end to violence and injustice.
Each year, it’s an important day of healing and peace, according to Vivian Waltz, director of the Sister Karen Klimczak Center for Nonviolence.
“There are so many groups working for peace and justice in Buffalo, it’s important to get together and celebrate the work we do, especially now when people are so divided and there’s so much violence,” Waltz said. “It’s important for people to know that there are people working against it.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York was there to honor the victims of 9/11, it said, and to stand as a community of faith in solidarity with its fellow Americans, said volunteer Alana Arman.
“My generation grew up in a time rocked by violence, but we are taught to love your neighbor as you love yourself,” she said.
There were the more well-known organizations, such as Stop the Violence, PUSH Buffalo and the Western New York Peace Center, and some less recognizable ones, such as Vanity Violence, which uses visual and performing arts to stop domestic violence.
The day started with a Haudenosaunee prayer and song, continued with a drum circle, children’s face painting and a peace walk to the marina gardens.
Attendees listened to speakers, mingled at informational tables, ate from food trucks or sipped drinks at Adirondack chairs.
Sara Philips of Williamsville said she learned about new organizations she hadn’t heard about before. She said she left the festival “glad there are nice people out there that just want to be nice to each other.”
“It’s good to be in a place where everyone seems to genuinely want peace for one another with zero discrimination,” she said.