Today’s Love: L.A. Group Offers Unconventional Peace Prize

One community-led effort is working to turn instruments of tragedy into works of art.

By Jamilah King Oct 07, 2011

Like many major cities, Los Angeles has a gun problem. Though law enforcement agencies love to talk about how violent crime has dropped in recent years, at least three people are killed each day in Los Angeles by people using firearms — a level of bloodshed that’s been captured for outsiders at least in part by the Los Angeles Times’ Murder blog. But as Zak Stone points out over at GOOD, one community-led effort is working to turn instruments of tragedy into works of art.

Last Mother’s Day, more than 2,700 weapons were turned in at a gun buy back event in the city, where people could exchange guns for grocery store gift certificates, no questions asked. That’s when the Violence Prevention Project teamed up a local gang prevention group and a metalworking studio to begin melding the guns and turning them into "Angels of Peace Awards." The statues commemorate the work of community leaders who’ve taken a stand against violence.

"When you hold the statue, you literally have lives in your hand," Kaile Shilling, director of the Violence Prevention Project, told GOOD.The impact isn’t lost on those who’ve most impacted by violence.

VPC staff are particularly proud of the way the local community embraced the project. La Fonderie, a local metalworking studio, offered to forge the statues. The gang prevention nonprofit Homies Unidos provided youth volunteers to participate in the metalsmithing process during a multi-week mentorship program.

"Every time the kids would come in, they’d bring other kids," said Hector Calderon, a graffiti artist and metalsmith at La Fonderie who coordinated the youth program.

To be sure, it’s an unconventional way to mark death and honor those who work hard to preserve life. But it’s important work that at least helps to get guns off the street. The statues should be completed this month. See more photos of the works-in-progress here.

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