For 20 years, Peace4Kids has been where the community has come together as family to build life-long relationships with children impacted by trauma and foster care.
The idea to create a strong developmental foundation through programs focused on creative expression and life skills, allowing youth to discover their unique voice and limitless potential for success was the brain child of co-founder and Executive Director Zaid Gayle, whose own mother had experience with the foster care system.
Gayle’s grandmother had a serious mental health condition, and as the oldest of eight siblings, it fell on her mother to raise many of her siblings. As a result, Gayle saw firsthand how her uncles and aunts struggled due to the trauma of their mother’s absence, and often wondered why her mom thrived, and what her family’s experiences meant for youth who found themselves in a similar situation.
“Peace4Kids was the place where I could explore and unpack what made my mom different from my aunts and uncles,” Zayle said. “If I could learn how to cut through the negative self-talk that happens to children who’ve experienced childhood trauma then my aunts and uncles’ journeys will have greater value to the world.”
Peace4Kids is the only program of its kind geared toward foster children in the communities of Watts, Compton, Willowbrook and South Gate, and its Core Saturday Program provides creative educational courses, activities, field trips, life skills and mentorship to youth ages 4-25.
In 2006, the organization began training youth on how to advocate for system reform by educating them on policy issues, introducing them to key stakeholders, and advancing its strength-based research agenda.
In fact, Peace4Kids youth — led by a 16-year-old — developed an awareness campaign called “All I did was turn 18” in which participating youth took a series of photos in places where youth in foster care said they spent the night after aging out of care.
The campaign received national attention and was featured in a local documentary thesis from a student at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. The campaign itself became integrated into a larger public-policy thrust in the state to address this problem.
In 2010, Assembly Bill 12 was signed into law to increase the legal age of foster care from 18 to 21 in California. The passage of AB 12 was greatly influenced by the input from Peace4Kids youth.
Gayle is continuously amazed by the strength and resilience of the youth the organization serve. Many have experienced some unbelievable traumas yet they still persevere.
“I hope that all of our youth understand that their experience in foster care is not their destiny,” Gayle said. “At Peace4Kids, we say you are born to relatives but you choose your family. If our youth discover that choice is foundational to their life experience, then they can understand that things don’t happen to them but instead they can happen for them.”
That is why, with two decades of experience working with this population, Gayle is currently writing a book tentatively title “Fragments of a Hero,” which is an amalgamation of everything that she has learned in the past 20 years at Peace4Kids juxtaposed against her own personal struggles.
“My hope is to encourage people to recognize that waiting for a hero to change the conditions in the world is how oppressive structures stay unchanged,” Gayle said. “Peace4Kids brought diverse populations together for a singular cause and we have changed the experience for youth in care for future generations. The next 20 years will be spent propagating this idea and inspiring others to work toward changing the conditions that impact their communities.”
Name: Zaid Gayle
Title: Co-founder + Executive Director
Social Media: Instagram – @peace4kids; Facebook – @peace4kidsla; Twitter @peace4kids_LA
Angela N. Parker