Peace First Presents Duets: Yara Shahidi and Anousheh Ansari

Young people are open, they’re imaginative, they’re collaborative, and I think because of technology and communication, they’re more interconnected with each other across the globe. So I feel that empowering young people will allow them to put all their knowledge, their imagination, their passion and everything that they believe into good use. And it will allow them to create a better future for themselves and for the next generation to come.
— Anousheh Ansari

Duets is a Peace First storytelling platform that pairs leading artists, entrepreneurs, activists and thinkers together with young people engaged in peacemaking work for powerful dialogues that explore the most important issues of our times. These conversations will help us all foster compassionate insights into our biggest problems, imagine new solutions, and build new allies to address our shared concerns.

In our third Duets, Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian-American astronaut, joined Peace First CEO Eric Dawson and her niece Yara Shahidi, star of ABC’s Black-ish, for an inspiring conversation this weekend in Los Angeles. As part our Peace First’s Duets storytelling campaign they discussed the importance of intergenerational conversations like these and what we can be doing, right now, to ensure the young people of our community feel empowered to take on the injustices most important to them. Check out some highlights of the conversation below.

Right now, these conversations feel more essential than ever. We must continue to bring together people of different experiences, different backgrounds, different demographics, to create an environment of compassion and collaboration.

Moments of Obligation

Dear Peace First Family,

There are many important anniversaries I celebrate in my work, but November 11, Veteran’s Day, is the most important.  That is the day, 24 years ago, when I first met Francelia Butler.  Fran was an 80 year-old, Elvis-loving, black-leather-pants-wearing, fierce advocate for the power of young people to create peace.  She believed two things: adults had had their chance to make the world a better place and had failed - so should get out of the way and let young people take the lead; and that people learn best by doing and through play.  As the founder and driving force being the International Peace Games Festival she created the groundwork for what is now Peace First.

I was 18 years old and, like many first year college students, I was dabbling with a number of activities, drinking in all that college had to offer.  I had recently joined the planning team for International Peace Games at Harvard, which was taking Fan’s vision and exploring if we could throw a Peace Games Festival of our own.

That November, a group of us piled into a van and drove down to meet Francelia and do the official hand-off.  It was a fun day of storytelling, dreaming, and meeting Fran’s colleagues who had worked as volunteers to bring gifted and talented students from throughout Connecticut together to share games about peace.

On the ride home I realized that this was it for me: this was the work I was going to commit to, the challenge I was going to take on.  That if we were going to build a movement, fueled by young people, to create more peaceful and more just communities it was going to take all of me, my full commitment.

We all face these moments of obligation.  Times when we can no longer sit back and let things be as they are.  Moments when we take a stand, join a cause, speak up in order to live our values.  When we are called to be part of something larger and greater, when our language shifts from “somebody ought to” to “I am going to”.  When we say yes, I will.

These moments often involve sacrifice and risk – personal, professional, financial – and can be difficult to explain.  They aren’t accompanied by marching bands or fireworks.  They don’t involve grand titles or swearing-in ceremonies.  They involve the silent “yes” inside our hearts and spirits and require the daily commitment to live with conflict, messiness, loss and failure.

We face such a moment right now.  As a nascent Peace First movement that wants to do something big and audacious; also as a country that needs to build a counterweight to a culture of exclusion, bigotry and fear.  A few weeks ago we began inviting young people all over the world into their own moments of obligation.  We must too.  The world needs all of us to step-up, to say yes, and be part of something transforming and risky.  Just as Francelia did for me, 24 years ago today.

Join our community of peacemakers. Feel this moment of obligation.

Peace,
Eric

Peace First Presents Duets: Yasmine Arrington and Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. Discuss Civic Engagement

Peace First Fellow Yasmine Arrington sat down with US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. to discuss civic engagement and how education can help foster the next group of young leaders in America.

If you missed the live stream, don't worry, you can still watch on Facebook!

"The more we interact with people and talk with them and share our stories, the more we find our commonalities."
Yasmine Arrington

Peace First Presents Duets: Kevin Jennings & Brennan Lewis

60% of trans or gender nonconforming youth report they have experienced verbal violence in the past year. 50% report physical violence. 80% feel unsafe at school. Violence against LGBTQ youth, even today, remains disproportionately high; yet, despite being central to this experience, LGBTQ youth, and youth in general, are too often barred from the decision-making process. And thus the solutions they see, as those most affected by this violence, go unnoticed.

So with that in mind, we launched Duets, a storytelling platform that pairs leading artists, entrepreneurs, activists, and thinkers together with young people engaged in peacemaking work for powerful dialogues that explore the most important issues for our times. For this inaugural moment, and in honor of LGBTQ History Month, we paired GLSN Founder and Arcus Foundation Executive Director Kevin Jennings with QueerNC Founder and Peace First Fellow Brennan Lewis for a discussion on the essential role of young people in LGBTQ activism.

In sharing their experiences, Kevin “was struck by how similar our stories are, even though we’re years apart.” And it’s not just because they both come from rural North Carolina – they spoke of feeling isolated and unsafe. They spoke of recognizing a culture and system that oppresses LGBTQ youth. And they both highlighted the important role of young people in changing that culture and system.

But we need more than recognition of their assets – we need to actively pursue young people and their ideas. As Brennan explained “we are really flexible and have a lot of new ideas.” So it’s the role of adults to not just give young people a pat on the back, but to create spaces that empower and support them to create change.

Right now, there are thousands and thousands of people like Brennan across the globe – young people with the ideas, with the perspective, with the compassion – they just need the opportunity and support.

Check out some more pictures of the event here.

And if you've been moved by this moment and these stories, please share and:

Peace First and After School Join Forces to Help Teens Change the World Through The Peace First Challenge

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--( September 21, 2016) - On the United Nations International Day of Peace, nonprofit organization Peace First and After School, the largest teen-only social network in the U.S., are launching a partnership to help millions of young people become peacemakers.

“Unfortunately, not enough young people are being called and prepared to be peacemakers. Even though we know that young people are disproportionately affected by violence, all too often they are not asked for their solutions, and rarely do we invest in their ideas. Instead, we continue to think of them as victims, perpetrators, or “the future” rather than powerful agents that can change the world for the better right now,” said Eric Dawson, Peace First Co-Founder and CEO. For twenty-four years, Peace First has prepared young people with the skills and commitments necessary to imagine and implement compassionate solutions to complex community problems. Its award-winning work reaches thousands of young people in all 50 states in the US and in 90 countries around the world.

After School will promote the Peace First Challenge, and share inspiring stories of youth peacemaking beginning on September 21. The Peace First Challenge is a “call to action for young people around the world to identify an injustice they care about and solve it using the tools of compassion, courage, and collaborative leadership, supported by a digital resource center, and mentors to power their ideas.” The challenge is open to youth between the ages of 13-24 years old and will invest through mini-grants to encourage projects and grow their impact. “Fortunately, there is an incredible opportunity through the Peace First Challenge to change this narrative by supporting young people around the world to unleash their moral imaginations and join a movement of peacemakers, starting here in the US,” Dawson stated.

After School has active online communities in over 80% of high schools and millions of users.  The app fosters fun and creative online and offline experiences for America’s teens, and helps connect them with opportunities to make a positive difference in their communities. The app provides these opportunities through active partnerships with leading youth-oriented organizations like Crisis Text Line, DoSomething.org, ConnectSafely, and Youth Service America, and now Peace First.

“Our teen users care about making their communities -- both online and offline -- a better place. We are delighted to work with Peace First to present young people with opportunities to tackle challenging social issues and make positive social change,” said After School’s Jeff Collins. After School’s efforts with partner DoSomething.org have resulted in over 50,000 students participating in social campaigns. The company is expanding partnership efforts to increase involvement in similar programs.

In response to why they’re partnering with After School, Dawson said, “After School has a wide audience of teens who have the ability to make positive change. We’re hopeful that our partnership, along with After School’s mission of activating their users in positive activities, will inspire youth to get involved with peacemaking efforts right now to help create a new cultural norm of peace.”

Peace First is a nonprofit (501(c)(3)) public benefit corporation that prepares young people around the world with the skills and commitments necessary to be powerful peacemakers

After School is a social network that fosters fun and creative online and offline experiences for America’s teens in a positive and safe environment that does not tolerate cyberbullying, threats, or content that threatens the safety of our online community. Millions of students in more than 80% of U.S. high schools, are using After School – making it the largest social network for teens.

A letter from Peace First CEO Eric Dawson: Something possible

Before something is seen as normal, it has to be seen as possible.
— Linda Greenhouse on Sandra Day O’Connor’s elevation to the Supreme Court

Dear Friends,

This was the quote that came to mind for me two weeks ago as we completed our latest Gathering, bringing together our young leaders to dream, plan, and collaborate on how to repair a world desperately in need of compassion. This event was a major milestone towards the culmination of the strategy that you’ve helped us create over the past year, and it was a moment when many of those ideas were turned into real possibilities.

In just a couple of months we’ll be taking our next big step forward by launching the Peace First Challenge. A call to action for young people around the world to identify an injustice and find compassionate solutions that break the cycles of violence, hatred, and intolerance that we suffer from. The Challenge will bring together much of our work from the past 20 years, but it also requires that we develop new tools and models for our work.

The recent Gathering was our first large scale test of many of these new elements, and I’m thrilled to say that the results were inspiring. Fifteen of the young peacemakers that we’ve worked with over the past few years came to the Gathering and were invited to be leaders in the community of peacemakers we’ll be building with the Challenge. Their response was amazing as they provided incredible feedback on our launch plans and stepped into their leadership roles with passion and a commitment to help build this community.

We also invited a group of young people from the Boston Area to test out many of the tools that we’ve been developing for the launch of the Challenge. Watching these young people take on complex injustices, work together to develop insights grounded in compassion, and then come up with solutions, made clear that we are on the right track, and their feedback will help shape the tools we deliver later this year.

Much work remains to be done, and this next year will be one of continuous learning for all of us as we launch the Challenge, but one thing is clear to me: an important brick of possibility has been laid on the path to a world where youth peacemaking is the norm. I look forward to continue walking that path together.

In Peace,

Eric

The Aspen Challenge

In March, Eric Dawson presented a challenge to the students of Chicago - he asked them to to bring together unlikely allies and unleash peace to counter the culture of violence that persists in all of our communities.

The team from the Roberto Clemente Community Academy accepted this challenge and designed an event called "Unify Division" in hopes to bring together both Wicker Park and Humboldt Park. The students felt that in the city of Chicago, there is animosity between neighborhoods that has created a divide in the city.  So in order to unify the city, the students are acting as agents of change by creating an event that utilizes these two unlikely allies to elicit peace and abolish the stereotypes that hinders these two neighborhoods from growing to their fullest potential.

Watch the students of the Roberto Clemente Community Academy present their project idea here:

School: Roberto Clemente Community Academy Challenge: By bringing together unlikely allies, I challenge you to unleash peace to counter the culture of violence present in your community.

Think Twice | Mary Pat Hector | TEDxYouth

Mary-Pat Hector (18) knows how to change the world. As a Peace First Prize Fellow, she was awarded the fellowship for Think Twice, a national campaign that educates youth on non-violence and other issues crippling her generation. Her national campaign provides teen-safety workshops for schools and trains teens and college students in youth advocacy.

Mary Pat asked a simple question of herself - 
“What was I going to do?”
Now it’s your turn to answer.

Designing Social Impact For Youth

We’re proud to be working with iiD to design a peacemaking platform that will empower and support young people to take action to solve the injustices important to them.

If we believe in the power of young people to change the world, how can our design work empower them to do so?

Read about iiD's approach to youth design here.