Throughout his life, 66-year-old Blase Bonpane has fought a war against war, campaigning for peace in war-torn and impoverished Latin American countries such as Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
On Thursday, he brought his message to Valley Alternative Magnet School in Van Nuys as part of the annual Peace Day.
Addressing a classroom of 30 students, the founder and director of the nonprofit educational group Office of the Americas urged them to examine the ways society often rewards violence.
“We have not lived in a peace culture,” he said, his voice rising. “We have lived in a culture that glorifies war. We have to abolish the war system.”
In its 14th year, the daylong event offered a variety of entertainment and education designed to teach children ways of combating violence.
This year’s program began with an assembly that drew participants from nearly every grade at the K-12 campus. Paula Marroquin, 17, portrayed Shakespeare’s doomed heroine in a reworking of “Romeo and Juliet” that depicted the lovers as giddy, modern-day teenagers.
"[We’re] getting their minds started on what they might go through once they get our age,” she said of her younger schoolmates.
Eloiza Obregon, 18, said the event offers a way to bring all grades together for an affirmation of the benefits of peace, a message that’s often lost amid the daily media reports of crime and corruption. “We have to remind them that there are ways of having a peaceful day,” she said.
After the initial gathering, students broke into groups to hear presentations from guest speakers such as Bonpane, Los Angeles Board of Education member Vickie Castro and Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah.
“It’s silly to think that we have to be selfish in order to live, that we have to hurt people,” Bonpane said.