NEWBURYPORT — If there was one commonality at yesterday's fourth annual Peace in the Park event at the Bartlet Mall, it's that it's never too early to remind children that peace is better than violence.
The yearly event is sponsored by Kids as Peacemakers, a Greater Newburyport-based group that strives to build child-friendly communities free of violence, and timed to coincide with the United Nations Day of Peace and the World Council of Churches International Day of Prayer for Peace.
Music performed by Greater Newburyport band Whole Music Artist Review and E.J. Ouellette served as the sound track for the three-hour event, which saw more than 15 local groups set up booths and tents along the mall.
Other music and entertainment was provided by the Bracken School of Irish Dance in Salisbury, Greg Coles African Dance & Drum, the River Valley Charter School in Newburyport and Emily Adams.
Among the groups in attendance were The Exchange Club of Newburyport, Community Action, the Friends Meeting House in Amesbury, All Around Gymnastics, Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, the Newburyport Public Library, Kids Make a Difference, Two Cents for Change/Pennies for Poverty and the YWCA Greater Newburyport.
"(The event is) another way of trying to give young people a platform to express their desire to live in a peaceful world," the Rev. Christopher Ney, pastor of Central Congregational Church in Newburyport and member of the Kids As Peacemakers' board of directors, said.
Finding such a platform is difficult in this day and age, considering that young people are bombarded with conflicting images of violence and hate that makes it harder for them to navigate through adolescence, Ney added.
"Basically, as people, we work best when we work together," Ney said, alluding to the concept of young people combining their efforts.
Throughout much of the event, gymnasts from All Around Gymnastics were conducting exhibitions for the crowd of roughly 100 people.
Dylan Hale wowed many in the crowd with a rapid-fire succession of circles and flares conducted on a small platform. Hale said he has been working on his gymnastics since he was 1 year old and has been competing for three years.
Hale's mother, Maria, said gymnastics is a great sport for youngsters because it lacks aggression and participants aren't hitting each other or knocking them down.
"It's about building them up," Maria Hale said.
Among those dancing to the music was John Seamans, who has been involved with Kids as Peacemakers for several years and has let group members use his house to create the many murals that are scattered throughout Greater Newburyport. Seamans said he is hopeful that the organization and its events, such as Peace in the Park, will counteract or stop the violence and negativity inside schools.
"Anytime young people are sharing music (for example) in the name of peace is important," Seamans said.