Peace During War
A Project of The FORUM of Greater Kalamazoo in Partnership with The John E. Fetzer Institute
This project is about changing the direction of young people’s lives toward the positive. It provides a unique intervention experience for young people, or adults who work with them, that can counteract
the pull of street life—gangs, drugs, quick money, cars, guns, fear, feuds, violence.
It works to reinforce common sense values of pursuing an education, developing a healthy self-image, making good choices and accepting responsibility as keys to success in life.
Michael Wilder, 5’3”, street name Too Short, and Yafinceio Harris, 6’5”, 370 lbs., street name Big B(east), know all this because they have lived it.
As teens they found “success” in street life as drug dealers and muscle for rival drug crews in Kalamazoo and other communities. Each has been heavy into guns and violence—with many dead friends to prove it. They personally spent years in a blood feud, hoping to take the other out, after a cousin of Yafinceio was killed in Kalamazoo in a fight with Michael’s crew. Each has also done many years in prison that gave them time to reflect on who they really are, what is really important in life and the kind of man they want to be.
That is who they were.
Who they are now are partners in Peace During War, working together to change the hearts and minds of young people and keep them from wasting their lives in prison or dying young. They have sworn off violence and learned to forgive each other for the past. They know that they are blessed to be alive and are dedicating their lives to serve as positive role models for forgiveness and personal change. Both expect to graduate KVCC this year and, through Peace During War, are using their past and communication talents to do good in the community.
Michael and Yafinceio are quite different in look and demeanor but each is self-aware, insightful and articulate in their own way. They are excellent listeners who complement each other in dynamic
ways. They speak from the heart about choices in life and what they can really cost. Their shared story is a powerful cautionary tale. They know the language and code of the street and use it to
connect with young people using humor, intelligence, common sense and emotional honesty to keep it real. They are not there to glorify street life. Instead they make key points in their unique
style that can change lives. Think twice—don’t get caught up in an “improper fraction”, a splitsecond act that could alter your whole life, cost you years in prison, devastate your loved ones, and
bring on more violence in retaliation. Don’t catch that felony—it will kill your chances for ever getting a good job or nice place to live. You are special, talented and loved—believe that— and not the bad
things people may have said about you in the past. Graduate high school, go to college, that’s where it’s at— make being smart and getting good grades “the new cool.” This write-up can’t begin
to capture their gifts as communicators and ability to connect with young people.
For adults who work with youth, Michael and Yafinceio can also provide critical insights into why and how street life is claiming young lives and what might be done to stop it.
A documentary film is being made in the course of this project and a summer retreat at the Fetzer Institute with Ameena Mathews and CeaseFire Chicago folks is also planned.
Would you and/or others in your organization want to partner in these efforts to make a difference for youth in the Greater Kalamazoo area? To discuss possibilities or schedule a session with Michael and Yafinceio, contact Peace During War today.