Ronald Little grew up in the Sursum Corda housing complex in northwest DC amid a culture of violence. Cussing and fistfights—even shootings and domestic abuse—were not unheard of in this small community just west of the NoMa neighborhood.
Many had a difficult time resisting the expectations born in this culture. “I grew up in a pretty rough area,” said Little, now 24. “You have to kind of be tough, macho, you know.”
Even this year, he lost multiple companions to violence.
“I had a lot of friends in school who were lost in the street,” he said. “They didn't really have things like this—people who actually care about you and take you places like to the museums, to experience different things, teach you how to properly express yourself without hurting another person’s feelings or making it worse, and also teach you how to defuse a situation—things like that. Everyone isn’t really fortunate enough to have things like that in their lives.”
He was talking of MJ Park and Little Friends For Peace. “MJ was like the balance in my life,” he said. “There’s a time and place for everything, and she came at the right time.”
While his peers spent their summers learning to navigate the streets of Sursum Corda—both emotionally and physically—Little spent ages two through 18 in Peace Camp.
“Peace Camp was such a big deal to my life,” he said. “This neighborhood is a troubled area. Peace Camp, when it was in my life, it taught me how to respect others, put others before you sometimes.”
Little still intentionally practices the peace skills he learned during camp, with respecting others at the forefront. His conflict resolution skills have been equally valuable.
“If some things tend to bother you, you have to talk it out and express yourself,” he said. “It’s all how you say things. Even though you’re expressing yourself, it’s all how you present yourself and express the problem.”
Even the small tactics have stuck.
“I know sometimes when things tend to get frustrating, I do the ‘hot potato’ thing,” he said, referencing Park’s signature method of blowing off steam. He smiled and moved one hand over the other. “One potato, two potato, three potato, four—and just take a deep breath. Sometimes if it doesn’t work I just keep doing it over and over.”
He identified the process of stopping and cooling down as a method worth instilling in Sursum Corda residents. “Calm down, collect yourselves and come back, and then we can work the problem out that way,” he said. “People act off in instinct and act off in anger, and that's not going to get anything done.”
Little's suggestions are deeply rooted in the LFFP practices, and they have served him well over the years. But if Peace Camp did one thing, it gave Little reprieve from the pressures and trials of the street.
“The best part of Peace Camp was when I was a kid,” he said. “Some people say, ‘I have to do this and do that,' to live on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t have to do that. [MJ gave me] a wonderful childhood.”
Little has since moved on from Sursum Corda, and as he now furthers his education and pursues passions in culinary arts and music engineering, he nods in appreciation to LFFP and the Parks who helped him rise.