Berkeley families start school with ‘peace gatherings’ Friday morning

Students at Malcolm X and other elementary schools gathered in the name of peace Friday, Sept. 1 before school. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Berkeley kids want peace so much that they are willing to get to school early to promote it.

At “peace gatherings” at a few Berkeley Unified elementary schools on Friday morning, students and parents held signs, sang songs and, at one school at least, stood in the formation of a large peace sign.

“Be kind” and “No hate in this world” were among messages handwritten on colorful signs. Keely, in fourth grade at Malcolm X, managed to work a Harry Potter reference into hers.

The peace demonstrations concept was thought up by parents at Washington Elementary, who inspired families at a couple other schools to follow suit.


Jessica Trauner, a parent at Washington, said she began thinking and reading about the origin of bigotry after the deadly white nationalist march in Charlottesville. Kids, she said, are likely to develop an “us versus them” mentality from an early age if they are not taught otherwise.
“We have an obligation to teach our children not to hate. So I had this idea that we have a peace gathering at school and share the values of peace and love, not hate, values of inclusiveness and tolerance, and other values that we all share as a community.”
Students and parents at Malcolm X held the American flag upside down, a “sign of distress,” they said. Photo: Natalie Orenstein.

Sara Kaplan, a Malcolm X parent who helped organize that school’s gathering, which began at 7:45 a.m., said the events were meant to signal to the students that, “no matter what they’re hearing on the news, everybody’s welcome. A lot of parents are trying to hold their anxiety in, but kids are hearing about things.”

Some parents said their children were too scared to attend the anti-hate rally in Berkeley last Sunday, but wanted a chance to spread the message anyway.

Parent Gopal Dayaneni participated in the Malcolm X peace gathering with his fifth-grade son Kavi, 10, to counteract a climate of “rising white supremacy and anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

“It’s nice that we’re having something at the schools, to create a welcoming environment,” he said.

The students, who started school earlier this week, were also eager to talk about their reasons for gathering this morning.

“Equality is for everybody,” explained Shirley, 8, in third grade. “I think everybody should have a little part of this world.”