The ceremony began with a blessing and the lighting of the sage, then an eagle’s feather was presented to a “warrior of peace,” a guest that Denver has welcomed to help end wars before, a guest that the city welcomes again to bring peace to our city’s streets.
Although despair still runs deep in the hood, hope and peace can be found, Aqeela Sherrills told the crowd of about 75 gathered at the Denver Inner City Parish. But people shouldn’t wait for a new leader to bring them peace. No Malcolm X, no Martin Luther King Jr., no Cesar Chavez will take them there.
Each must find their own way.
“Kids fight, that’s just our way of getting to know each other,” Sherrills told the crowd.
But as a kid growing up in Watts, 2.2 miles of the hardest ‘hood in the country, he had no idea that the natural instinct of conflict could lead to such war. After a kid named Night Owl was killed, a key death in the events leading up to the wars of Crips and Bloods, the homies all told Sherrill to claim his side of the tracks when asked and to throw punches when questioned. He took the advice and was drafted into the war which escalated each year until crack hit the streets, turning women to hos and giving gangsters larger caches of weapons. The streets exploded.
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Sherrill escaped with his life and even made it to college in the midst of the war. He opened his mind and his heart, discovering that part of what lead him to gang-bangin’ was a sexual assault that he experienced as a kid. Around-the-way, common perception is that victims of sex offenses grow up to be offenders or gay, both taboos in the projects that Sherrill wanted no part of. He never shared his frustration, his humiliation or his anger.
A father five times over when he took peace to the streets, Sherrill teamed up with Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can program where he coordinated gangsters from America’s hardest hoods including Denver ("The Transformers", February 22), declaring peace in the streets.
“But it’s one thing to create a peace treaty and another thing to sustain it,” Sherrill said.
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As Sherrill’s own children grew, the peace slowly left the streets of L.A. He was 16 years deep into the peace for gangsters movement when his non-gang-banging son was murdered by a gangster from a different hood during a visit home from college.
“You take life for two reasons, out of fear or a calloused heart,” Sherrill said, noting that the cops couldn’t put a case together and that he told the boys in the hood not to ride for retaliation. He hopes to one day meet the man who killed his son and that man’s parents, not to scold him but to get him back on path.
“It’s not us and them, it’s us. Peace starts with balancing the gifts and the wounds of your own personal life,” Sherrill said. “We cannot afford to lose one more.”
Sherrill is in town as the Summer of Peace picks up momentum in Denver with a ceremony at 8 p.m. tonight at the Denver City and County Building, which will be lit up in honor of peace. --Luke Turf