Creating a Culture of Peace

 Over the weekend of October 22-23rd thirteen youth grades 10 through 12 came together at the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting House to explore issues of violence, nonviolence, social change movements and community. We used the Creating a Culture of Peace curriculum, which was developed by Janet Chisholm while at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, that uses popular education to explore these concepts.

This was the first session of the AFSC PA Program's Racial Justice Through human rights project. The youth were racially, culturally and geographically diverse. They included people from small towns, from suburbia, from the Northside, the Southside, the West and the East. They came from small Catholic schools, inner city schools, schools that were majority African American and Schools that were majority white. One student was home schooled. We had Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and other main line denominations in the group. Finally we expect a local Latino youth to be represented in our future sessions. We have been partnering with Pittsburgh Cares and they were very helpful in identifying some of the youth from the schools they serve.

 The goals of the Racial Justice Through Human rights program are to give the youths’ learning and experience to create peaceful change and a better understanding of racial and ethnic justice using a human rights framework. As the youths experience with these issues grow, they will be guided in designing and implementing a project that addresses in some way racial or ethnic injustice in the community, and helping design a curriculum which can be used by other youth groups in Pittsburgh and around the country.

 The weekend was exciting and stimulating for all of us, although it was challenging as some of the youth could not attend all the sessions due to other commitments.

 These were some of the thoughts from the youth on the weekend:

 The participants spoke of expanding their views on what is violence and understanding that there is more than just physical violence. They talked about: being surrounded by violence even if they are not the cause; that society can inflict violence; how you can become desensitized to violence and how it can be cyclical as it is perpetuated through generations.

 The section on nonviolence needed more time to really explore how active nonviolence can be effective in a very violent world. However we can each do small nonviolent acts that make a difference.

 The movie of the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins was enlightening and stimulated a good discussion, including asking if social change movements, to be effective, needed a economic component, such as the boycott of the downtown businesses in Nashville and the bus boycott during the Rosa Parks protests.

 The final segment of the weekend on community was especially lively. One of the exercises was using consensus process to design your ideal community. One group started the discussion by deciding what values they wanted for their community. The same group, when faced with a lack of consensus on whether to add an abortion clinic, created a bonfire circle in the center of the community where people could process challenging decisions.