Peace seems to be the most difficult state for people to obtain. Many close themselves off from one another creating invisible barriers for protection. They close their minds to others different from them based on various social, ethic and cultural norms. But when they do this, they’re creating a culture for violence and intolerance. It is a process that marches further away from tranquility. But when people get together and decide that violence is not the answer, peace can become more of a reality for all. At the Holy Family School in Chicago, a new movement is underway to help stop the mayhem plaguing it’s community:
In 2013, when North Lawndale appeared on a list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in America, it underscored the need for us to do more about the violence that plagues our West Side community. For 29 years we have provided a safe, predictable place for children to learn. Proudly, we’re preparing the leaders of tomorrow. But the need to address the violence is urgent, and we can do more.
Our response is The Peace Exchange, an innovative leadership development program for young adults committed to violence prevention. Focused on education and led by its young leaders, The Peace Exchange program incorporates transformational travel, cross-cultural experiences and outreach to neighborhood youth.
Holy Family partnered with community-based organizations Mikva Challenge, Free Spirit Media, and the Chicago International Youth Peace Movement to recruit the first group of youth leaders – three men and two women — from the neighborhoods of Austin, Garfield Park, Little Village/Pilsen, South Shore, and Uptown. Holy Family School alum Marquetta Monroe, now a sophomore at Xavier University, is one of the five Peace Builders.
Beginning in June 2013, our Peace Builders participated in over 60 hours of training on violence- and peace-related topics. Over the winter break, they traveled to Thailand and Myanmar to learn about traditions of nonviolence and to observe a society that maintains a peaceful community and calm streets while contending with ethnic conflict, poverty, lack of opportunity, and social injustice. Two filmmakers with Free Spirit Media documented their experiences in a short film that our Peace Builders will share in meetings this spring and summer with at least 1000 Chicago youth, including students at Holy Family School.
We invite you to take a few minutes to watch the film and reflect on what our friends in Thailand and Myanmar say about mindfulness, insight, the power of community, and peace. The documentary also contains powerful messages about the universal appeal of music, dance and art, and what can be communicated through a smile. We hope you’ll also enjoy the reflections of our five Peace Builders. Your comments are most welcome.
The Peace Exchange is currently recruiting its next class of six to eight Peace Builders.