About 100 Brentwood residents sang and prayed for peace at Ross Memorial Park Sunday, surrounded by the paintings of Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and other prominent peacemakers.
The Sisters of St. Joseph, a local order of nuns, organized the “Gathering of Neighbors for Peace and Compassion,” along with several civic and faith groups, to “lift up the positive, lift up the good and lift up the beautiful and to pray for peace and compassion that’s so desperately needed,” said Sister Heather Ganz.
Ganz was moved to act, she said, because of “the climate of negativity, the violence that’s going on, the climate of prejudice and hatred,” not just in Brentwood, but around the country.
“The energy and prayer spreads out from this place and ripples into the universe,” Ganz told the crowd to cheers.
But Brentwood is a community often plagued by street violence, amid the persistent presence of gangs. Just last month, a block away from Sunday’s park gathering, a man fired gun shots, but missed, at another man walking down the street on a Friday morning, police said. A woman and child were nearby, but weren’t hurt.
In January, a 16-year-old allegedly shot a 22-year-old man after what police said was a possible gang-related dispute.
Jose Avila, vice president of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce, emceed the event, which included the singing of “God Bless America” and choral and spoken word performances from Brentwood High School students. He said the performance highlighted many of the positives of Brentwood — a strong sense of community and faith.
“We love to spread the good news about Brentwood,” said Avila. “But unfortunately the bad news is what makes more noise. . . . But we have a great community, a lot of great people in the area.”
The paintings, by Andres Gallardo of Manifest Media in Deer Park, also featured Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for advocating education for girls and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alfred Jaya, who grew up in Brentwood and now splits his time between Islandia and Miami, attended the event with a youth empowerment group he founded. “I am T.U.F.F.,” he said of the group’s name, which stands for Talented, Unique, Focused, Fearless.
Jaya, who graduated from Brentwood High School, said his group partnered with the town’s “Keep Islip Clean” campaign and painted four of the trash cans, one featuring the Brentwood water tower and the William Upham Dame House, which he said brings “awareness and pride to Brentwood.”
The trash cans were also on display Sunday and will eventually be placed in town parks, Jaya said.
Carmen Florentin, 16, a Brentwood High School junior, said the day had brought her a sense of optimism about her community and the larger world.
“When I first got here, I was telling my uncle, ‘Oh my God, these are members of Brentwood and I feel like I don’t know anyone.’ And now I’m here and I got to meet so many people. I feel at home now.”