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Our Beginnings

Marni Otway and Zaid Gayle

From a seed to a blooming community.

As part of the Season for Nonviolence, a nationwide campaign to promote peace, Zaid Gayle and Marni Otway founded Peace4Kids in 1998. In honor of Mahatma K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision that non-violence heals, transforms, and empowers, they wanted to create a garden to inspire and serve as a community healing space.

Teachers at 99th Street Elementary School heard about the idea and invited them to speak to their students. Zaid and Marni received a package of letters a week after the assembly.

"99 Reasons Why We Need a Peace Garden"

The 99 letters were student testimonials about how violence affected their lives. Despite that, their words radiated hope and were filled with the desire for family, community, and support. As a result of shared trauma, the students wanted to create a peaceful environment. 

The Peace Garden was born in this moment. Through gardening, kids would learn about the cycle of life and reconcile their hope of belonging to a caring community.2003 Peace Garden Peace4Kids

Peaceful resistance was the centerpiece of the nonviolence movement. Youth in foster care are especially vulnerable to trauma, violence, and discrimination because of their experiences. Gandhi and King demonstrated the possibility of creating a more equitable society by uniting people who have suffered violence, trauma, and discrimination. Future generations might benefit from youth in foster care uniting their voices, shining a light on injustices, and resisting the challenges they face.

Marni and Zaid interpreted the 99 letters as evidence of the various ways the youth needed them. The children's descriptions of suffering were an invitation to get involved and advance the teachings of two great leaders whose legacy can live on through them. However, it soon became apparent that youth already possessed these skills and had intuitively adapted them to survive. This exercise began as an opportunity to teach nonviolence, but soon became an opportunity to discover youth's strengths and gifts.

"We thought we were teaching them. We were wrong." 

Instead of preaching and teaching, Marni and Zaid learned to listen and discover.

Our goal at Peace4Kids today is to create a safe community where youth in foster care can thrive and form lasting connections, so their discoveries and strengths can be shared for our collective well-being and healing.