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“Guns to Garden Tools” instills catharsis and social justice in community

The biblical verse “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks" inspires the work of RawTools.

CHAMPAIGN — A few years ago, Rabbi Alan Cook of Sinai Temple heard about a group that transforms donated guns into gardening tools. 

He thought it was a powerful idea, and said it was akin to the Jewish principle, tikkun olam.

“We emphasize the idea of tikkun olam, literally repairing the world and making it according to God’s original vision,” Cook said. It’s an idea, he explained, often highlighted by the Reform Movement in Judaism.

Now, with the leadership of the Champaign-Urbana Interfaith Alliance and the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana & Vicinity, this event is becoming a reality.

“Guns to Garden Tools” is a weekend-long effort to combat local gun violence — starting Friday, July 29 at the Randolph St. Community Garden (1001 N. Randolph, Champaign), which is an area directly impacted by gun violence locally. The event is intended to mark a weekend of peace.

RAWTools is a Colorado-based blacksmith collective working from the Mennonite tradition, that aims to follow literally the prophecy in the biblical Book of Isaiah that “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks.” They’ve worked on social justice projects in cities across the country, working directly with people impacted by gun violence.

They’ve turned guns into artwork, and this weekend, they’ll transform guns into yard signs and shovels — which will be distributed to various local gardens. 

One of the first gardening tools will be presented to Dawn Blackman, a coordinator at the Randolph Garden and a pastor at Church of the Brethren.

Reverend Tim Bossenbroek of Hessel Park Christian Reformed Church is one of the leaders of the “Guns to Garden Tools” event. He hopes it’ll bring catharsis as well as robust investment to the community.

“My interest in it is not necessarily tied to anti-violence, but a broader desire for justice and peace,” Reverend Bossenbroek said. He said local organizers wanted to build on the momentum initiated by the June event, 48 Hours of Peace.

Champaign Church of the Brethren, Champaign-Urbana Moms Demand Action, and the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center (CIMIC) in Urbana, are among the other organizations involved in this weekend’s event.

Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin

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Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin is a politics reporter at Illinois Public Media. He's focusing on elections across the state, particularly the 13th and 15th congressional districts and the gubernatorial race. Malkin studied Politics and Communications at Ithaca College, where he was a nightly newscaster and reporter for WICB. From 2020 to 2021, he was a reporting fellow at the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. You can send a tip, recommendation, or note to hmalkin@illinois.edu.

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