Joshua Saleem began work with AFSC this spring to create a peace education program in St. Louis modeled after similar AFSC work with youth in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Below is an excerpt from a recent interview with regional staffer Jon Krieg in which Joshua shares what he’s learned, his vision for AFSC’s work in St. Louis, and why he’s involved. The full interview is available here.

Jon – How do you see translating AFSC’s work in Los Angeles to St. Louis?

Joshua – One thing I’m going to borrow from the L.A. program is their “head, heart and hand” model to empower students to be positive agents of change. In St. Louis, we’ll first engage hearts through AFSC’s Help Increase the Peace (HIP) curriculum – this involves nonviolence and conflict resolution training to help build relationships with the kids as a group. It focuses on their self-esteem, cooperation, their ability to dialogue with and listen to others, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Once a rapport is built within the group, the kids will engage their heads by taking a critical look at their schools and community – mapping out what’s good and what’s negative or not beneficial. My guess is that trash and the need to clean up their community may be one issue. Another is the abundance of vacant lots and abandoned homes. Others might be the lack of grocery stores and the prevalence of liquor stores, the lack of jobs and employment prospects.

The kids will look at why their community has these needs. How did it come to be this way? What’s the role and history of racism in St. Louis? We’ll connect these questions to the widening income gap, other economic justice issues and militarism. Why do we spend so much on the military but not on education? So in this way, we’ll engage their heads.

In AFSC’s civic engagement model, it’s not just enough to see what’s wrong; what will the kids develop to work on these issues? AFSC’s role is to facilitate. How will we increase jobs? How can we get community and resource leaders to come together? The kids will decide what they want to work on. A peace garden would be an option for addressing the lack of grocery stores.

I was moved by a quotation which Michael McConnell, the new Regional Director for the new Midwest Region, recently shared from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” So through this program we’ll bandage the wounds of violence by developing the kids’ ability to resolve personal conflicts peacefully. Then we’ll drive a spoke into the wheel of injustice by educating them on systemic injustices and having them engage in a project that will positively impact their community.