Summer Plans Series: Pianos for Peace Makes a Joyful Noise

By Rei Ramos ’15
University Communications

August marks a very musical month for the streets of Rochester, thanks to a community arts project led by a UR undergrad. In 11 different locations around the city, pianos have been placed in parks and public spaces as part of an outdoor music installation led by Marissa Balonon-Rosen ’14. The project, Pianos for Peace, works to provide the public with access to the arts and serves as an outlet for Balonon-Rosen to promote ideas of nonviolence within the community.

A Rochester native, Balonon-Rosen was able to take piano lessons through the Rochester City School District at a young age, an opportunity that was not available to many. As such, she was also familiar with the issues plaguing her local community. “I was raised in Rochester and really experienced many of the issues that it has had with violence,” she explains. Now a dual degree  student enrolled at both Eastman and the River Campus, she hopes to use this arts project as a vehicle to send a “message of peace” through music and community values. The pianos, which were all donated, were painted and decorated with different messages and interpretations of peace by local youth and artists.

Balonon-Rosen drew inspiration from similar outdoor piano installations that she found while abroad in Paris. From this initial idea, she was also able to incorporate aspects of her dual degree to provide the foundations for this project.  Having found great value in music and the arts as a piano major at Eastman, she was likewise driven by a desire to promote nonviolence, as evidenced by her pursuit of Urban Youth Studies – a major that she created through a mix of classes in anthropology, psychology, education, and religion among others.

The project was made possible through the collaborative efforts of multiple local organizations, such as the University of Rochester, the Eastman School of Music, the

Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, and the Rochester City School District – all organizations that Balonon-Rosen has worked with or experienced first-hand. When asked about the workload required to spearhead this project, she was quick to acknowledge its difficulty. “It took a lot of coordination,” she admits; charged with acquiring the pianos via donation, enlisting artists to paint them, as well as connecting with community members to find viable spaces for the installations, Balonon-Rosen had to spend a considerable amount of time and effort to make her plan into a reality. The installation series will continue until the end of August when the pianos will be moved to the Ghandi Institute for Nonviolence as a continuing community fixture to promote peace.

Balonon-Rosen believes that this project offers a positive vehicle of expression to the community. “For me, I see music as a way of bringing strangers together – bringing neighbors together – in a way that nothing else really can,” she explains. With this, the inclusion of dropboxes for suggestions with each piano gives the public the opportunity to reflect on how to better promote peace within the community. “Sometimes people have the idea, but don’t have the platform to share it,” explains Balonon-Rosen. For her, this project is all about starting a dialogue within the community in order to open up the idea for peace to both neighbors and strangers alike.


This story is part of the Summer Plans Series, a collection of stories about how undergrads at the University of Rochester are spending their summer. Know of someone doing something cool over break? Email The Buzz ( and tell us all about it!

Oladoyin Oladeru ’13 Leads Nonviolence Program for Middle Schoolers

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Last year, Oladoyin Oladeru ’13 mentored middle school students about the benefits of nonviolence during in-school suspension hours and decided he wanted to create an after school program of a similar nature.  With help from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and fellow University of Rochester undergraduates, Oladeru established the Young Men at Peace program last fall.  The program allows 6th, 7th, and 8th grade male students at Dr. Charles Lunsford School #19 the unique opportunity to explore a wide range of important issues related to nonviolence.

Oladeru is one of five students chosen to be a 2012-20130 Meliora Leader, a new community service initiative through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL). Meliora Leaders create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.

The topics addressed in Young Men at Peace are meant to inform the middle schoolers about the power of nonviolent self-transformation to overcome physical and mental obstacles. This includes awareness of positive lifestyle choices and social interactions, how to become better advocates against community and school violence, and learning about social justice heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

In addition to Oladeru, other Young Men at Peace undergraduate mentors include Milan Byrdwell ’14, Reginald Hooks ’15, Shaquill McCullers ’14, Michael Mobarak ’15, Carl Parker ’13, and Taurean Parker ’13. All six undergraduates, whom Oladeru gathered before the start of the program last fall, serve as a source of inspiration for the students.

“We want to make the dream of obtaining a college education more attainable by showing them young men from the U of R who are living proof,” says Oladeru.

George Payne, who works at the Gandhi Institute as a Peace and Justice Educator and helps oversee the program, applauds Oladeru’s “vision and dedication,” for allowing the students involved to form “meaningful bonds with mentors in college who know about their challenges and believe in their potential.”  Echoing Payne’s praise is Principal Eva Thomas, who has called the Young Men at Peace program a “blessing” to her school.

Oladeru exercises his own life experiences while serving as a nonviolence ambassador to the young males of School # 19.  Oladeru moved from Lagos, Nigeria to the United States when he was nine years old and lived in the Bronx until college.  Around the age of the students he now mentors, Oladeru was bullied for being foreign, African, and studious. A personal “turning point” that alerted him to the importance of nonviolence occurred in 6th grade when his friend got shot on his way home after school.

“Mentorship is really important, especially at a young age,” says Oladeru. “I remember giving into peer pressure when I came to this country and I think this is an issue most prevalent with young males at that age.  It’s not enough to have two parents at home because they can’t relate and there’s only so much they can understand.”

Oladeru, who is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in epidemiology this May, is a McNair Scholar, a Ronald McDonald scholar, a Gilman Scholar, and a Gates Millennium Scholar.  In addition to being a Meliora Leader, he works at Carlson Library and is a Resident Advisor.  He hopes to get a master’s and doctoral degree in epidemiology and conduct population-based research in cardiovascular disease.

Oladeru has high hopes for the future of the program because the young male participants have noticeably progressed as a result of the efforts of Oladeru, his fellow UR mentors, and the Gandhi Institute.  The number of attendees has been steadily increasing and Oladeru aims for a total of 15 boys that come on a regular basis. He also hopes to plan field trips to the U of R campus, Foodlink, and Darien Lake to teach them about rules in different social settings and inspire them to be respectful no matter where you are.

“To see someone with a similar background having made it goes a long way,” says Oladeru. “The greatest joy for me is that I got people interested in volunteering who really care. We go back every week and it makes a difference.”

This article is part two of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at

In the photos: Photo 1: Oladoyin Oladeru with one of the young men in his program. Photo 2: Oladoyin Oladeru and a group of University of Rochester undergraduate mentors teach male students from Dr. Charles Lunsford School #19 about the benefits of nonviolence.

Seeds of Change Planted during A Season for Nonviolence

Univ. Communications – A group of students at the University of Rochester recently wrapped up a six-week Nonviolent Communication training course offered free of charge by the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. The course is part of a series of programs and lectures offered by the Institute during A Season for Nonviolence, which lasts between January 30 and April 4.

A Season for Nonviolence was initiated by Arun and Sunanda Gandhi at the United Nations in 1998. The two dates commemorate the assassinations of M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., respectively. The 64-day education, media, and grassroots campaign aims to “bring to life the principles and practice of nonviolence as a powerful way to heal, transform and empower individuals and communities,” according to a statement by the Institute.

VIDEO: Carillion Bells Ring Weekly During A Season for Nonviolence

Nonviolent Communication, as a formal conflict resolution strategy, was started by American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s and is based on the principles of self-empathy, empathy, and honest self-expression. The class, led by Gandhi Institute director and former apprentice to Rosenberg, Kit Miller, convened for two and a half hours each Thursday over the course of six weeks. It brought together students and community members to discover the psychological principles underlying nonviolent communication and to practice the daily application of Rosenberg’s strategies.

“What I’ve valued most is being able to actually apply it,” said studio art major Joey Hartmann-Dow ’12, “the concept of making observations to guess what other people’s needs are instead of making snap judgements is a challenge and a gift.  Kit Miller is a wonderful teacher, and it was inspiring to meet other students and community members who want to gain these valuable skills.”

The course is usually organized in the fall semesters, but when Keegan Olton ’13, a philosophy and studio art double major, heard about the opportunity this past winter, he approached Miller about teaching the course in the spring. “I heard about NVC from a friend of mine who just completed the training for his work.  Having studied the history of noviolence with [philosophy department Professor Emeritus] Bob Holmes, I was very intrigued by it,” said Olton.

“I’m highly motivated by receiving requests from students,” said Miller. “I’m more and more happy to be someone who responds to requests from students, rather than sort of sitting here in splendid isolation, trying to guess what people want.”

“I was excited to have realized that if there’s something good going on and you want to take part in it you can make it happen and not just wait until it’s scheduled to happen again,” said Olton. Miller asked him to find ten students to sign up for the class and the remaining eight spots were opened up to interested community members.

The result was a mix of people of different ages and backgrounds, which created a rich learning environment. “I definitely think that 18- to 23-year-olds practicing anything, really, with a group of people much older than them is something that doesn’t happen often enough,” Olton said. “The people who came brought different levels of understanding but everyone was willing to move the class forward at a pace needed by those with the least understanding.”

For the students participating in the class, the interest came from a desire to improve interpersonal communications, develop more effective leadership skills, and, some looked to explore interesting psychological work. Matias Piva ’14, a philosophy and psychology major, decided to take the class because of aspirations of becoming a relationship coach and therapist. “I thought that the skills I stood to learn from the class would be invaluable tools for the career I wanted to achieve,” Piva said.

One of the main goals of NVC is to teach people to recognize the humanity in others and to, in Gandhi’s words, separate the doer from the deed.  This is possible when people’s actions and words are considered in light of the needs they are aimed at fulfilling. Once the needs of others are identified and the emotions, words, and actions used to express those needs are discussed, common ground in conflict can be reached.

“We see someone doing something or saying something we don’t like and we collapse their act or their speech with them. Nonviolent communication, for me, helps to pull that apart, to be able to look with compassion on a person even when I’m really, really not on board with what they’re saying or what they’re doing,” Miller explained.

As the last class wrapped up, the students and community members reflected happily on the new skills they acquired and their experiences in applying them to daily interactions.  “I do highly recommend this class to students and anyone else interested in changing the way they approach the world and one another,” said Piva.

Olton agreed. “My communication is slower and more deliberate and I find myself saying less, but what I do say means more to those I say it to.”

Both Piva and Olton, along with other members of the course, expressed the intention to continue practicing and sharing their skills to affect positive changes in their environments and within themselves.

As the Season for Nonviolence continues, the Gandhi Institute will host speakers and organize events to promote their cause. For information about upcoming events or opportunities to learn about nonviolence, check out the Institute’s website or email Kit Miller.

Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia ( and the other to photography (


Photo courtesy of Maya Dukmasova.