An interfaith peace garden in Northeast Baltimore builds tolerance among religions through annual conversations about forgiveness. At-risk youth forgive others and themselves with the help of drumming and dance.
It's all part of a four-year Maryland Public Television campaign wrapping up this Tuesday to promote love and forgiveness. But participants say the program, part of an effort to build the concepts nationwide, will have a lasting impact.
MPT was one of five stations that worked with the Fetzer Institute, a foundation based in Michigan that "engages with people and organizations to bring the power of love, forgiveness and compassion to the center of individual and community life," said Linda Grdina, an officer with the Fetzer program.
The institute chose to work with public television because the stations already provide community education and outreach, she said. Five stations across the country applied to participate in the "Campaign for Love and Forgiveness," a pilot program started in 2006.
MPT "saw it as something completely different from our typical public affairs offerings," said Faith Wachter, the station's director of community outreach initiatives.
"There's a real science behind this," she said. Fetzer has "compiled quite a body of research about how learning love and forgiveness and compassion can actually have very physiological benefits to you."
MPT worked with four Maryland program partners: the Interfaith Fairness Coalition of Maryland, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people within religious organizations; Fusion Partnerships, which provides fiscal support to grassroots organizations; the Friends of the Northeast Interfaith Peace Garden; and Nyame Nti Cultural Healing Arts Therapy, which uses traditional African arts such as storytelling and drumming to promote emotional healing.
Fetzer provided a curriculum, including documentaries that each station aired. Facilitators used clips from the films, which addressed the 2006 shooting of Amish students in a Lancaster County, Pa., schoolhouse and the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
The curriculum focuses on the health benefits of forgiveness, Grdina said.
"Forgiveness in essence is about choosing to move on," she said.
Based on surveys, 70 percent of participants said after the campaign that they were more willing to forgive others for mistakes, Grdina said. "They experienced personal healing and are apt to pass this experience on to family and friends," she said.
Several of MPT's partners say they will continue the discussions.
"They have really embraced the ideals and really made it their own," Wachter said. "Even though the official campaign is over, it's very much still alive and well."
The Friends of the Northeast Interfaith Prayer Garden planted a forgiveness garden on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua Church, in the Frankford neighborhood. The group will hold annual conversations about love and forgiveness during Lent in the spring, said executive director Gloria Carpeneto. The concepts are universal, spanning all religions. "Everyone knew this was a basic issue in human functioning: loving and forgiving," she said.
Two sisters who lead Nyame Nti Cultural Healing Arts Therapy held conversations at the Woodbourne Center, a residential program for boys and young men ages 12 to 19. The program uses traditional African arts such as storytelling and drumming to help children and adults heal emotional wounds.
Dorothy Adamson Holly, a psychologist and social worker, said that the campaign changed the climate at the center. "I'm so sad that the program will be ending formally," she said.
As part of the campaign, they formed the Woodbourne Love & Forgiveness Drummers, which will perform at the closing ceremony Tuesday.
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