This story from The Chicago Crusader on May 3rd, 2014, profiles the work of Troy Withers, a recent graduate (BPS ’13) of RU’s Sustainability Studies program and current intern at Morrill Elementary in Chicago. We applaud Troy’s work as a advocate of community health, sustainable food production, good nutrition, and social justice. (Editor’s note: The text of the article has been modified slightly to refer to the May 6th Wellness Event in the past tense.)
As a new wave of gang and gun violence hits Chicago, a Roosevelt University intern at an impacted elementary school in Chicago is promoting a wellness agenda that includes a ‘Peace Diet’ that is meant to reduce youth aggression and violence.
Troy Withers, a 2013 graduate of Roosevelt’s Sustainability Studies program and a vegan, has long held the belief that diet can negatively impact behavior, particularly processed foods high in omega-6 fatty acids, refined carbohydrates and sugars.
That is why he organized a Wellness Day that was held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6 at the Morrill Elementary School, 6002 S. Rockwell, Chicago, just blocks from the scene of a recent shooting of a 2013 graduate of Morrill and the brother of a current Morrill student.
“It will be a day devoted to healing in which we will be discussing why so much violence is happening and how we can turn the tide against it,” said Withers prior to the event. He works part-time at the school as a peacekeeper helping students resolve conflicts using restorative justice practices in conjunction with an internship through Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation.
“We will be presenting some possible solutions to the violence epidemic, including providing information on the importance of having our kids eat better on a regular basis,” said Withers.
The event included a 4 p.m. Symposium on Inner City Violence where Withers introduced the concept of his Peace Diet, (which includes plant-based whole foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and essential micronutrients), as a tool for violence prevention.
Sample servings of the Peace Diet, including lentil sloppy joes, sweet potato fries seasoned with kelp and a leafy green vegetable, were served at the Symposium. Free-food giveaways, hip-hop music geared toward violence prevention as well as participation by community activists, including Ameena Matthews from the award-winning PBS documentary, The Interrupters, were among other activities.
A resident of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, Withers is the founder of the Gahn Institute for Sustainable Solutions, a Chicago-based policy institute stressing sustainability, health and community wellness as a means to combat societal problems. He first began researching causes of violence last year as a Roosevelt student after learning of the highly publicized murders in Chicago of Hadiyah Pendleton and six-month-old Jonylah Watkins. During the research, Withers became convinced that there is a correlation between poor nutrition and violent behavior, and has been working since then to educate and engage communities, youths and their parents about the importance of eating healthy foods.
“Young people in this community are facing violence on a regular basis,” said Nancy Michaels, associate director of Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute, which has been working at Morrill since 2011 and at other Chicago Public Schools as well to support young people through the use of restorative justice practices, including peace circles.
“While there are many factors that can contribute to violence, we believe Troy’s ideas are worth considering as we look for ways to establish a more peaceful, positive environment for young people to thrive,” Michaels said.
The Wellness Day event was co-sponsored by the Healthy Schools Campaign, Morrill Elementary School and Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation. For more information, contact the Mansfield Institute at 312-341-2150.