Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for October 17, 2006

Forgiveness...even if...even don't love me anymore!

Unfortunately, in Cairo, we are still too focused on the other variation of the term. Do you believe in miracles? That's what it's going to take!

From the Southeast Missourian...

Cairo project seen as city's hope for peace

TJ GREANEY ~ Southeast Missourian

CAIRO, Ill. -- Aqeela Sherrills knows about forgiveness. As a young man he struggled to forgive an older relative who once sexually molested him. As a father, he says he found it in his heart to forgive the murderer of his 18-year old son.

Sherrills also knows about trading war for peace. As a former member of the Crips gang in Los Angeles, he held hands with members of the rival gang he once vowed to kill. His leadership was key in brokering a cease-fire between his faction and the rival Bloods gang in the L.A.'s Watts neighborhood.

Sherrills was in Cairo Monday as part of the "F Word" traveling exhibition. The Forgiveness Project exhibit will be on display at the Armory at 410 Washington Ave. for the next two weeks. It features photographs and stories of people from across the world who exemplify forgiveness or have peacefully resolved conflicts.

The exhibit was organized by the Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone.

The need for healing in Cairo was not lost on Cherrills.

"There are a lot of wounds existing in this community, but I'm encouraging people to look for the gift in the wounds," he said. "Because sometimes forgiving one another for inflicting wounds is the beginning of arriving at a place where you have compassion and understanding."

Cherrills was the first in a series of speakers including a nun who endured the murder of members of her order in Liberia and a professor who worked to find peace in Northern Ireland.

Wounds in Cairo are not hard to find. Those present tell of a place where deep rifts between the mayor and city council members have brought city government to a grinding halt. Layoffs of 13 of Cairo's 79 city employees in August created more acrimony.

Crime, drugs and hopelessness live side by side in the town's streets.

"The city is tore up right now," said Lolita Adkinson of Cairo, who said a dysfunctional city government is the last thing the impoverished town of 3,600 needs. "People need to be here to see this, I think there is something all of us can learn from these people."

Only one city councilwoman, Caroline Ponting, was among the approximately 80 people present for Cherrills' speech. Organizers said everyone in city government was alerted of the event.

"If ever anyone needed a lesson in forgiveness it's all of us here in Cairo," said Ponting. "I hope everyone comes out to this."

Organizers say they're still holding out the olive branch.

"It disappoints you that they did not come out, but there will be many more opportunities over the next two weeks," said George Bell, a member of the planning committee for the event. "We're hoping for this to be a turning point where people can come together and if they feel like it, give vent to their feelings and do it in a positive manner."

Those who came told of a city ready for healing.

"You see when an individual can stop and forgive someone, they pass that on to others. But it takes that individual to stand up and take steps to let the healing process begin," said Anne Terry of Mounds, who works as an investigator for the Department of Children and Family Services in Cairo.

"We need to come together as a united community," she said.

And Cherrills told of how difficult that unification can be. He said violence is once again on the rise in Watts causing many to question whether the peace he tried to broker will ever become a reality.

"The thing you have to understand is that peace is not a destination, it's a series of peaks and valleys. It's not running through some field of daisies. Peace is difficult, peace encompasses conflict," he said.

Ninth-grader Lemont Toots was one of more than 20 students Egyptian High School in nearby Tamms to come to the event. He said young people don't see a future in the area. "We've got it all around here, a lot of violence, drugs, people spreading diseases," he said.

"Yeah, this could be good for people to hear. But I doubt if it will change anything. Most people don't even want to sit down and pay attention."