In the cool comfort of a small room at the back of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, Rev. Wayne S. Daley calls up a carefully curated playlist. The calming sounds of trickling water and chimes play as Daley, or “Rev,” as his friends at the institute call him, places a shallow plastic container of sand on a table in the middle of the room.

The mini sandbox is instrumental to what is called “Peace Play,” one of many services offered at the institute to help survivors of homicide reflect on the trauma of their loss.

In this exercise, a survivor is encouraged to put their hands inside the container and let the sand run through their fingers. Once more relaxed, they select a few figurines from the institute’s collection — anything from plastic army men to small crosses. Daley says the figurines a survivor selects may represent their strengths, struggles, or inspirations. Finally, with gentle prodding from questions posed by Daley, the survivor places the figurines in the sand.

“There is no right, there is no wrong,” says Daley of the process. “You do whatever moves you and bring everything you’ve got into a non-judgemental space.”

Peace Play and the open conversation that follows often provide survivors a new way to look at trauma — and healing. In that relaxed environment, they are able to “unpack” how the figures they selected and placed in the sand relate to their personal experience.

“It’s a new way of expressing whatever is going on internally and can bring up things from years ago, things that never got unpacked,” Daley says.

Healing is the beating heart of the institute, founded by Clementina Chéry after the 1993 killing of her son, Louis D. Brown. Brown was on his way to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting when he was struck in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

Chéry and her daughter, Alexandra, share their personal experiences as survivors of homicide, along with their current work at the peace institute, in the above podcast.

For another survivor story, click here.