Promoting ‘hope’ after ‘trauma’: Isaura Mendes marks 20 years of pushing for peace in Dot

“I’m looking forward to walking again this year with my bullhorn, screaming for peace and forgiveness,” says Isaura Mendes. Chris Lovett photo from 2018

For Isaura Mendes, this Saturday will mark two decades of providing programming and support to victims and survivors of street violence in Dorchester. She established her non-profit organization, The Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy, after her son Bobby was murdered in 1995. Her resolve to continue her work was bolstered in 2006 when another son, Matthew, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Uphams Corner.

Mendes will mark the 20th anniversary of the Peace Legacy on Saturday evening at First Parish Dorchester on Meeting House Hill at an awards dinner that will feature the presentation of $1,000 scholarships in the form of “Matthew Courage” awards to seven students, most of them from Dorchester’s Boston International School.

Mendes explained that the scholarship recipients were chosen by teachers through an essay contest that prompted the students to write about courage.

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Through the Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy, Mendes has organized annual events like “Christmas with Bobby,” a holiday gift-giving celebration for neighborhood families, Back to School Barbecues, which provide local kids with school supplies each August, and a series of “Peace Walks.” All of her work, she said, is guided by what she calls the “Seven Principles of Peace” – Unity, Justice, Forgiveness, Courage, Hope, Faith, and Love.

“The Seven Principles of Peace is a way survivors deal with their pain; we try to live those principles. It’s not easy, but we try to live it,” she said.

“My son Matthew was one of the principles; he was the principle of courage. After he was murdered, I started to live through those principles.”

The number seven is symbolic for Mendes; for the last decade she has volunteered at seven state prisons, spreading her message of peace and forgiveness to inmates. And there are the seven area kids who’ll receive the scholarships at the Saturday dinner.

While the awards will provide a foundation for the students’ academic futures, Mendes said, they are also meant to provide other types of support. “Our goal is to give the survivors’ family a scholarship, but our scholarship is not just for school. A lot of time young people are working and trying to make a difference, but can no longer work because of trauma. I want to reach out to people with trauma and give them hope.”

Mendes recognizes that trauma affects everyone in the vicinity of gun violence, including the victims’ families, the offenders’ families, and innocent bystanders. “Every child who lives in Dorchester is a survivor,” she insists. “Because they hear the gunshots, and they live with trauma, and understand that [danger]. Or even have a dream about it.”

In the Peace Legacy’s 20th year, Mendes is poised to expand her organization in new directions, thanks to state funding secured by former State Rep. Evandro Carvalho that will help launch the nonprofit’s website and make it easier for Mendes to reach out to survivors.

But as long as violence persists in her neighborhood, so will her work for peace. After Saturday’s event, where John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development, will be the keynote speaker and state Rep. Liz Miranda will offer remarks, Mendes will turn her attention to the Peace Walk that will be held later this spring in honor of all those affected by street violence in the past year.

She will march on, she says, for “children that were shot and become paralyzed, for people that live with a bullet in their body every day, for people who I see born and grow up and end up in prison. … I’m looking forward to walking again this year with my bullhorn, screaming for peace and forgiveness.”

Donations to the Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy can be made at bmpl.org. Tickets for the awards dinner are $50.