Decomposing Violence with Lead to Life

Grants Program
by Kalliopeia Foundation
Lead to Life gathers in Oakland for evening ritual.

Spiritual Ecology Fellows brontë velez and Kyle Lemle of Lead to Life: A People’s Alchemy for Regeneration led a weekend of connection and healing in Oakland, California, over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

On Monday night, several Kalliopeia staff and Spiritual Ecology Fellowship alumni joined hundreds of people in an outdoor public ceremony to decompose violence and celebrate the radical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The ceremony, organized by Lead to Life, was centered around the melting of guns, brought forward by mothers who had lost their children to gun violence.

Lead to Life calls their work “a people’s alchemy for regeneration.” This gathering—circled around a 3,000-degree forge in Oscar Grant Plaza, directly in front of Oakland City Hall—was dedicated to transforming trauma and violence into life and freedom. The guns cast into the forge were physically transformed into metal stars, together forming the constellations visible in the sky on the night Oscar Grant was shot. The stars will become plaques, planted alongside trees in ceremonies that Lead to Life is organizing for April at sites of violence against Black and Native people in the Oakland area.

“Our mission is to take tools of violence, weapons like guns, and then transform them,” Lead to Life alchemist Liz Kennedy told CBS journalists. “Our team really hopes that people walk away tonight with the sense that we can alchemize, decompose violence every single day in so many acts, both big and small.”

It seems rare in modern life that such depth of feeling and blessing can be shared in public, perhaps even more rare in front of a city hall. In an interview with For The Wild, brontë described the urgent need for “rituals to practice grief”: “I think we’re at a time in this concept of the Great Turning that … will require pain, it will require grieving, it will invoke sadness; because everything we thought was true, everything we were striving for is no longer—or now we know the impacts of what that old dream will impose upon the Earth and other living beings.”

The day before the ceremony in Oscar Grant Plaza, Lead to Life organized an “action day” in collaboration with Planting Justice, Sogorea Té Land Trust, and the Permaculture Action Network. In addition to co-leading Lead to Life, brontë serves as a food justice educator with Planting Justice, a grassroots organization sowing social and environmental regeneration in the Bay Area. Planting Justice’s two-acre nursery was the site of Sunday’s all-day gathering, a family-friendly event that served as a work party and also offered workshops (on environmental racism and restorative justice), movement-building sing-alongs (with Thrive Choir, Desirae Harp, and others), and community-building.

Planting Justice is working with Sogorea Té Land Trust to transfer the land where the nursery is located back into Native stewardship. On this “action day,” community helped prepare posts for a traditional Ohlone arbor that will serve as a place of ceremony.

“There’s been a disconnection from land and sacred practices with the genocide of indigenous people,” said Raders in an interview with Civil Eats. “It’s our duty to see that the land stays in Native stewardship forever.”

“We trust that we cannot restore ecological well-being without indigenous land sovereignty and black liberation,” Lead to Life staff wrote in a recent newsletter. “Healing our human relations is essential to the earth’s liberation, to the rebellion against extinction, to the freedom of the bees and air and water.

To learn more about Lead to Life, see the multimedia piece “
Applied Alchemy” in issue three of Emergence Magazine.