WESTMINSTER >> Award-winning Minnesota photographer John Noltner will release his second book, "A Peace of My Mind: American Stories," on Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace. In an increasingly polarized world, "A Peace of My Mind" offers a look at the common humanity that connects us.
Since 2012, Noltner has driven more than 40,000 miles across the United States asking people the simple question, "What does peace mean to you?" and taking their portrait. In this book, a diverse collection of ordinary Americans share extraordinary stories of transformation, forgiveness, and hope. Honest stories from survivors of violence, refugees, civil rights activists, artists, ranchers, veterans, ex-prisoners, and many others reveal insights into ways we can work toward common good and create a world that is more just for all.
Among the 58 subjects interviewed by Noltner was Alex Lowe, a student at Kurn Hattin Homes for children, a Vermont residential school designed to offer kids "a secure and supportive haven during a troubled period in their families' lives."
"Alex's favorite animal is the great white shark and he plans to become a marine biologist," said Noltner.
"When I think of peace, I think of people shaking hands on the street and picking them up when they feel down," Lowe told Noltner. "I guess that peace means that everybody gets along, everybody's actually bonding with each other, people are there for each other, and they make the world a better place."
One person who makes the world a better place for Lowe is Brian, a classmate.
"Brian was in my cottage last year and every time I was down, he would pick me back up. He would be nice to me and play with me, and when everybody else didn't want to do the things I wanted to do, he would come and comfort me. It made me feel great because it means I actually have someone who I can trust."
Lowe also credits classmate Rudy for helping him to understand his own anger.
"When I got here, Rudy was my best friend. He was always having a great day, always making everyone happy. When I wasn't happy, I guess I tried to make his day miserable, too. He would be playing with Legos and I would come and smash them all away.
"At first, it made me kind of feel good, but after it was done, I felt even more miserable because I just wrecked something someone made. I know I wouldn't like that if someone did that to me. If you see someone being mean to other people, try to stick up for that person."
Lowe told Noltner he has been able to get a handle on his emotions by writing in a journal.
"That's one way that I get my feelings out. My mother told me that you don't always have to bring your anger out, and when you do, bring it out on paper."
As a student at Kurn Hattin, Lowe told Noltner, doing chores have made him more responsible.
"I have to wash the dishes, then I have to get the mop bucket and fill that up and let everybody mop, and then dump the mop bucket outside. Responsibilities get us ready for the big world. It will be hard not having an adult there to tell you what you need to get done, and then you'll get sidetracked. You won't know what to do, and it will be puzzling."
"A Peace of My Mind" has a proven track record of engaging communities in conversations about conflict resolution, civic responsibility, and social change. The project has been presented at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, the Gandhi — King Conference, and the Sojourners Summit for Change, as well as colleges and community centers across the country.
Noltner's first book, "A Peace of My Mind," was released in 2011, with a foreword by South African peace activist Ela Gandhi, grand daughter of Mahatma Gandhi. The book won a gold medal in the Midwest Book Awards, a silver IPPY, and is in it's third printing. The stories for the first book were primarily gathered in Minnesota, and led to the creation of the national collection gathered in "A Peace of My Mind: American Stories." The stories from the first book are also reproduced in two traveling exhibits that install across the country as a catalyst for public dialog.
For more than 20 years, Noltner has told stories with words and images for national magazines, Fortune 500 companies, and nonprofit organizations.
To learn more about "A Peace of My Mind: American Stories," visit www.apomm.net.