Growing a movement one person, one community at a time
“To be realistic, we have to think about the impossible. When I work with people, I say, ‘Let’s try to create what we want to see.’ We need to create it visibly.” —Carlos “Elmo” Gomez
In October, AFSC had the privilege and the pleasure of sponsoring Elmo and 18 other young people from AFSC’s programs in six U.S. states and six other countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Warsaw, Poland.
These young people joined 160 youth delegates from around the world. As part of the Youth Civic Academy, they took workshops with Nobel laureates like Muhammad Yunus and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and they shared with each other what they’ve learned about the power of nonviolence and what it takes to build peace in their communities.
Each AFSC delegate is a leader and a change maker in his or her community, working for justice and creating the peace “we want to see,” as Elmo says.
Elmo worked with AFSC in our Roots for Peace program in Los Angeles. Recognizing access to fresh produce as a pressing need in the Mar Vista Gardens housing project, Elmo’s class turned an unsightly, weed-filled lot into an organic garden. The garden proved so successful that AFSC’s Roots for Peace program soon expanded to two additional schools.
This year, Elmo returned to AFSC as an intern, pursuing a dream to bring a garden plot to every residential unit in Mar Vista Gardens.
In this low-income neighborhood caught in the cycle of violence and poverty, Elmo found many people who shared his vision. “One of the great things about this project was getting the whole community and youth involved,” he says. “People are really excited to grow food.”
Elmo worked closely with the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles and, in response to their concerns, adapted the plan to create a single community garden rather than many residential plots. He organized workshops for residents in which master gardener Millie Alegro shared tips on what to grow and how to prepare the soil, among other things.
In June, the housing authority gave its approval, and the community got to work preparing the gardens. The beds were first planted in September, and the fruits of the community’s labor are now becoming visible—and edible. Elmo hopes the project will expand as more and more residents experience the value of growing their own fresh food.
Elmo and the other young delegates in Warsaw learned that the situations they each face aren’t so dissimilar. Communities trapped in poverty and violence need the same things in order to be at peace: the end of violent conflict, jobs or opportunities to create their own livelihoods, access to education. And they need support to change the systems that allow racism and economic exploitation to persist.
I was inspired by the commitment and vision these young leaders brought to the community of delegates and by the empowering stories of success they shared with one another. Whether from Los Angeles, Baltimore, Zimbabwe, or Indonesia, they brought the hopes and dreams of their communities.
And leaving Warsaw, they brought back to their communities a profound awareness that they are not working in isolation—that they are part of a global network of AFSC programs and like-minded partners seeking lasting peace with justice. They are already finding ways to stay in touch and continue working together for a transformed world.
When I was the age of these young people, a friend offered a powerful metaphor that still inspires me. He said:
Our life is a brick. You can choose what you do with a brick—you can throw it through a window, you can use it to hold open a door, or you can work with others so that your brick becomes part of a building, a house, a cathedral, a complex structure that makes a lasting difference in the world.
The AFSC young people at the Nobel laureates summit and those profiled throughout this issue of Quaker Action are using their lives to “create visibly” the world we all would like to see.