Blessed are the peacemakers

CPJC to honor community builders during a time of division

Lakshmi Ariaratnam, one of this year’s Peace Endeavor Award recipients, speaks at the Chico Women’s March on Jan. 21.

Lakshmi Ariaratnam, one of this year’s Peace Endeavor Award recipients, speaks at the Chico Women’s March on Jan. 21.

Photo by Ken Smith

The Chico Peace and Justice Center’s 37th annual dinner, “Community Rising,” will be held Wednesday, Oct. 4, 5-8 p.m., at the Chico Family Masonic Center. For more information on the CPJC and its programs, go to

As someone concerned with issues like inequality, injustice and ongoing war, Lakshmi Ariaratnam is no stranger to anger.

“When we see something wrong and hurtful happening, our blood boils and we get angry,” said Ariaratnam, one of three community members who will receive a Peace Endeavor Award from the Chico Peace and Justice Center at the organization’s 37th annual dinner next Wednesday (Oct. 4). “I understand, and I still get angry myself, sometimes … but someone who is angry and violent and trying to talk about peace doesn’t help.

“If you can’t make yourself calm and then respond rather than react, then you are increasing the violence. If you stay centered and at peace, then you will be more effective in all that you do.”

Ariaratnam, who emigrated from Sri Lanka in 1969, has been involved with the center since she settled in Chico in 1981. She is a founding member of the Sky Creek Dharma Center and active in the Chico Area Interfaith Council and MLK Unity Group, and said she enjoys group singing and folk dancing.

A strong proponent of meditation, universal spirituality and nonviolent communication, Ariaratnam regularly quotes sources ranging from Buddhist monk Thích Nhat Hanh to Albert Einstein to illustrate her philosophy. She also uses personal anecdotes to share her own strategies to put that philosophy in action, like her penchant for speaking to strangers.

“My daughter says, ‘Ma, what if they don’t want to talk to you?’” she said. “I tell her I wouldn’t take it personally, but nobody has refused to talk so far. I am an old lady now, and everyone has been happy I spoke to them.”

The theme of the dinner is “Community Rising,” which CPJC Executive Director Aramenta Hawkins said pays homage to the increased political activism she’s seen since Donald Trump was elected president last November.

“People are very passionate about politics and social justice right now,” Hawkins said. “They’re getting together with community members they probably didn’t know before to organize, be around like-minded people, get their message out and educate others.

“This year’s awards are to acknowledge key figures who are helping to build community between marginalized groups and the majority of people,” she continued.

Also receiving awards are activists Vince Haynie and Rain Scher. Haynie, a local pastor, is involved in several social justice efforts and is the founder and chair of the Love Chapmantown Community Coalition. Love Chapmantown has succeeded in efforts to improve that neighborhood through new lighting, sidewalks and community-building events, and this week hosts its largest annual event—Chapmantown Night Out—on Friday (Sept. 29).

Scher is a founder of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Butte County and, with Haynie, active in the Justice for Desmond Phillips effort, which is seeking recourse for the family of Phillips—the 25-year-old shot by Chico police in March—and advocating for change at local law enforcement agencies. Scher is also active in LGBTQ issues and was involved in organizing the Chico Women’s March in January.

In addition to an awards presentation, Hawkins said the dinner will include informational tables from the center’s community allies, a potluck-style “Lasagna-palooza,” live music and memorabilia from the center’s history.

Though the CPJC first opened in 1982, its origin dates back much further. In 1960, a local woman named Wilhelmina Taggart began making weekly visits to a Titan missile base located near the Chico Municipal Airport, where she would pray in protest of the nuclear warheads the site was designed to launch.

After the missile site was abandoned in the mid-’60s, Taggart and two other women who’d joined her weekly pilgrimages—Florence McLane and Helen Kinnee—moved the demonstration, known as the Chico Peace Vigil, to Third and Main streets. It has continued every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. since, expanding upon the anti-nuclear message to include a range of other social justice issues.

Today, the CPJC runs regular programs and workshops focused on nonviolent communication, veterans’ experiences, community gardening, beginning Spanish and much more. It is also involved with ongoing campaigns like the Chico Palestine Action Group and Occupy Beale Air Force Base (which protests drone warfare). The center partners with community allies like the Chico Housing Action Team and SURJ and provides space for many groups to meet.

The dinner also will feature a presentation spotlighting one of the CPJC’s newest programs, Career Builders: Counter Recruitment. That program aims to help provide young adults with alternatives to joining the military by providing “under-reported information about the realities of military service,” according to the CPJC website, as well as information about scholarships and nonmilitary career opportunities.

The CPJC’s annual dinner and Pancakes for Peace—held in the spring—are the nonprofit organization’s largest fundraisers.

“There’s a lot of energy going on right now in Chico, all around Butte County and beyond,” Hawkins said. “People are fired up … that’s the temperament of today’s society. The goal of the people we’re honoring this year is to help bring those people together. We’re all on the same page.”