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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

Peace During War speakers describe work with toubled youth

Last night in McKenna Hall, the Dean’s Fellows of the College of Arts and Letters invited three speakers from Kalamazoo, Michigan — Michael Wilder, Yafinceio Harris and Sam Bailey, a professor from Kalamazoo Community College — to speak about the Peace During War project. Peace During War is a group that visits high schools, juvenile homes and prisons to share Wilder’s and Harris’s story about their life of drugs and crime and redemption after prison. Wilder said they hope to change lives by showing young people they can turn their lives around.

“We tell our story to the youth so that they don’t make the same mistakes we made and end up in prison like we did,” he said. “Our story ends in good, but a lot of young people that go on that same path don’t end up good; they end up dead, they end up in prison forever.”

Wilder and Harris talked about their childhoods and adolescences being surrounded by a culture that did not encourage them to have a life outside of crime. Harris said to have aspirations in that culture was looked down upon.

“To try to be positive is a negative in our neighborhood,” he said. “But to be positive around you all, to be positive to your teachers, is a plus to them, and they make you feel glorious and good.”

Wilder and Harris said Peace During War has spoken with 3,000 to 4,000 troubled youth in the past three years, visiting all the juvenile homes and alternative high schools in Kalamazoo and has traveled to speak to youth in other parts of the country as well.

Wilder said his work with the program has changed his life and allowed him to contribute more to his community, after years of dealing drugs.

“Now, I have seven police officers’ personal numbers in my phone, including the narcotics agent that raided my house and caught me with drugs in 2008,” he said. “Now, they call on us for community help. If drug dealers get out of hand, they call Peace During War. If the gang violence gets to an accelerated rate, they call Peace During War. We’re so honored and proud to be a part of that.”

Harris said he and Wilder started speaking in schools because they wanted to share their stories, but they did not expect it to become a job for them.

“We’re just happy to be here, to change lives,” he said. “We’re just happy to be who we’re becoming”