‘If you want to live in a more peaceful world, become more peaceful. If you want to live in a more compassionate world, become more compassionate.’
For the past four years, Barry and Margaret Mizen have carried their message of peace to young people in schools, youth clubs, churches, prisons and on the streets. They have spoken to politicians, police chiefs and countless victims and perpetrators of violent crime. On Wednesday 26thSeptember, CAFOD Birmingham volunteers, staff and guests were privileged to hear them tell their story in the church hall at St Mary the Mount, Walsall.
‘It starts off sad,’ Barry warned us as they began. ‘But it’s okay, because then we come to the hope.’
All Margaret and Barry’s work for peace is in memory of their son, Jimmy Mizen: a boy whom, Margaret told us, she never once had to tell off in all the sixteen years and one day of his life. We watched Jimmy grow up from a (not so) tiny 10lb 4oz baby in a montage of family photographs, then Barry and Margaret told us the story of the day after his sixteenth birthday when he went out to buy a lottery ticket and was murdered in a local baker’s by a known young thug.
Jimmy died on a Saturday. Barry and Margaret told us how, the following day, they felt the need to go to Mass as usual to be with their parish community and receive the Blessed Sacrament. When they left the church, they were met by a crowd of journalists wanting to speak to them about what had happened to Jimmy.
‘We don’t know how they knew we’d be there,’ Barry said. ‘Or how they even knew we were Catholic.’
Not expecting the journalists to be there waiting for them, Barry and Margaret had not given any thought to how they would respond to their questions. When they found themselves speaking not of anger but of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness, they were – and remain – convinced that the words came from God.
Since that moment, Barry and Margaret have worked tirelessly for a world where children and young people no longer hurt and kill each other; a world where we believe in our young people and they are able to grow up in safety, peace and hope.
In Jimmy’s name, they have founded the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, responsible for projects including CitySafe Havens, a community cafe, apprenticeship opportunities for young people and ‘Jimmybuses’, donated to community groups. Their newest venture, in partnership with the David Idowu Foundation (set up in memory of David Idowu, who was killed aged fourteen) is Release the Peace, a campaign featuring a Peace Car signed by celebrities from Dermot O’Leary to Boris Johnson.
They were interviewed once by a journalist who, in the article that followed, described them as ‘dizzily optimistic’. Barry and Margaret have embraced that label, understanding that, for the world they are working for to become possible, ‘dizzy optimism’ is entirely necessary.
‘Let’s all be dizzily optimistic!’ Barry urged us. ‘CAFOD is dizzily optimistic.’
Last year, Barry and Margaret visited Kenya with CAFOD where they met CAFOD partners who, like them, are working for peace, and to make young people safer. They shared stories with groups like Youth Building Bridges for Peace, who use street theatre, peace clubs and workshops to help young people living with violence and poverty build peace in their community and find positive ways to make their voices heard.
Margaret spoke about the experience of meeting Kenyan mothers who had lost their children to violence. When Jimmy was killed, she told us, there was an ambulance, there were paramedics, there were police and there were undertakers. In Kenya, she spoke to mothers who simply had a knock on the door and a stranger saying, ‘Someone’s been killed down the street, we think it’s your son.’ The mothers she met in Kenya had to arrange for someone to bring their son’s body home; one mother she spoke to could not find anyone to carry her son’s body.
Faith, Margaret and Barry told us, was part of daily life for the people they met in Kenya, and it is their own faith that has brought them hope and enabled them to keep going in their work for peace. Margaret told us that people had asked whether she blamed God for what had happened to Jimmy; the answer was an emphatic ‘No’. God, she believed, had only ever meant her to have Jimmy for sixteen years and one day and, rather than blame God for his death, she was grateful for this gift.
Barry told us about a funeral he attended with Jimmy shortly before his death, where he overheard Jimmy and his friends talking about what they would like to happen when they died. Jimmy said: ‘I just want to be remembered.’ The work Barry and Margaret are doing in Jimmy’s memory must have changed many lives. Those who were fortunate enough to hear them speak that evening in Walsall came away with renewed determination to each do our small part to build a more peaceful, more compassionate world.