A mission of peace: Hartford activist brings city residents together

HARTFORD -- There’s no shortage of issues dividing many people, from political disagreements to violence in some neighborhoods.

In Hartford, a man who once divided the city is still on a mission to try and get everyone in the same room. “We are in turbulent times. Things are shaky,” said Iran Nazario.

Nazario opened the Peace Center in Hartford last year, but recently held his first awards dinner to bring attention to those who portray peace. Included in the program, a Sikh and a former white supremacist.

The two now share friendship.

Nazario wants his center to be a central hub for people and organizations relentlessly working to resolve conflict in Connecticut, no matter the issue. Whether it’s gun control, sexual assault, political disagreements or even immigration, Nazario is trying to bring all sides to the table. “Somebody has to rise up. It doesn’t have to be me. Somebody in each one of those communities as to rise up and calm things down,” said Nazario.

The Hartford native also wants his center to serve as a safe space for struggling teens in the Capital City, especially with recent cases of children stealing cars and an 18-year old convicted of killing a 15-year old.

Late nights and weekends, Nazario and his team will walk the streets in violent neighborhoods to show people, there’s a better option. “I found myself falling in love with helping people,” said Nazario.

Nazario loves helping now because of his own story, a story FOX 61 has documented since the darker days.

“My neighborhood was completely decimated by poverty, violence and gangs. So, I fed into that because that was my normal life.” Nazario fed into it early. At age 11, he joined the Los Solidos gang, a group that terrorized many cities and towns in Connecticut starting in the early 90’s. “There were even times when you’d run from police and get away and you’d laugh. It was so normal.”

Nazario would eventually get caught and spent much of his teens and twenties in prison on gang-related charges. “I was thinking, how the heck do I get out of this mess I’m in? How do I stop running from the police? How do I stop making myself suffer? How do I get myself into a stable place?”

With the right mentors, Nazario was able to find that stable place. Now, grateful, he wants to be that same mentor to someone else struggling to see the other side. “At least one person. Just one person.” Finding that one person is tough. It’s why he held his first awards dinner to shine light on those willing to help.

Nazario is also working with some of the Hartford police officers who once arrested him, to get people on the right track.