International Women's Day

Today is International Women’s Day, so in honor of this day, we’re highlighting the Peace First Challenge projects working to empower and support women.

The Hopes and Fears for our Future

For every hateful comment she’s heard, Azanta Thakur also tells the story of a supportive friend.
— Azanta Thakur

As the inauguration approaches and we continue to process and understand...EVERYTHING, it's essential the voices of our young people are heard. Check out this piece by CNN's Masuma Ahuja, who captured the stories of a few young people across the country: Coming of age in the Trump era

And if you feel like you need to do something, anything, check out The Peace First Challenge - a call to action for teams of young people across America to create powerful solutions for issues in their schools and local communities.

A Successful Peace March at 186th Street School: Wise Owls Shout, “Happy Birthday Dr. King… Let Peace Soar!”

Below is an account of the most recent annual Peace March held by 186th St School in LA, written by school principal Marcia Reed:

Our 12th Annual Peace March, "Stepping Out for Peace," was held on Friday, January 13, 2017, and it was a memorable event for the Wise Owl Nation!  After a full week of rain, the sunshine created a day filled with the magic of excited students, caring teachers, supportive parents, wonderful community leaders, and fabulous law enforcement officers to highlight our theme of peace.  This year the Peace March was held to celebrate peace in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday; to kick off our annual Peace First Community Service Learning Projects which go hand in hand with President Obama’s charge to promote a spirit of service; to honor local heroes who have served and are serving our country; and to release 20 doves to symbolize our commitment to peace.   The students and staff were very proud to share their pledge and commitment of working together to make the world a better place by creating peacemakers and not peace breakers.

A sea of smiling students and staff members wearing Peace First t-shirts, beautiful peace signs, and loving parent and community ambassadors adorned the assembly area.  The march opened with the inspiring recording of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. King.  Srgt. Sandoval and the Jr. ROTC from Gardena High School led the flag salute followed by Maree Reed singing an inspirational rendition of the national anthem. Next, Mrs. Reed, the Principal, and the students welcomed all of the parents and community leaders with the 186th School Cheer.  Then several guests encouraged our students with their remarks and presence to promote peace including Director Lee Lee Chou (LD South Superintendent), Al Smith (Toyota Financial Services Vice President), Senior Lead Officer Frank Lopez (LAPD Harbor Division), and Officer Reagle-Breault (LAUSD School Police).  The children shared the Six Pillars of Character and their Peace First Chant that asked everyone to “work together in peace, walk together in peace, love one another, and live together in peace!”  Next Aimee Yamada played a taiko drum solo while the Peace Ambassadors presented American flags to all of our military heroes and law enforcement officers.  Then the highlight for many of our children began when our heroes gathered around a basket filled with 20 white doves and Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard from the U.S. Navy released the doves.  The audience shouted, “Happy Birthday Dr. King…Let Peace Soar!” and the doves soared to the sky. The children waived good-bye to the doves as the music echoed, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!”  The Gardena High Jr. ROTC and the Peace Ambassadors led the March.   Next the children walked the perimeter of the school with their beautiful peace signs, singing their melodious peace chants, and renewing their commitment to live peaceably with all people.  As the children walked by the Toyota Technical Center, the engineers and staff waived to encourage the students to be the best they can possibly be.  Every student was congratulated with a high five for their commitment to live in peace by the district leaders, community friends, law enforcement officers, military heroes, and parents.  The spirit of the day was captured in the eyes of the children as they sparkled with enthusiasm for peace.

The Peace March empowers the school community to take a stand as activists, advocates, and ambassadors for peace.  We gave our students an active learning experience to compare and contrast our school neighborhood with the neighborhoods in which they live.  Our hope is that this activity posed questions and developed ideas that will spark our children to commit to doing something different to ensure peace in their communities.  The day was a wonderful expression of the school and community coming together to celebrate peace.

The Peace March was covered by Channel 7 ABC Eyewitness news.  LAUSD School Police and the Los Angeles Police Department – Harbor Division ensured the safety of the march.

Peace First Presents Duets: Mary-Pat Hector and Arne Duncan

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.

On December 14th in Chicago, we held a conversation between Peace First Fellow and Think Twice Campaign founder Mary-Pat Hector and former Secretary of Education and Managing Partner of the Emerson Collective Arne Duncan. Together in conversation they explored how young people – right now – are creating strategies for reducing gun violence and creating lasting community peace.

Young people need to be told they can.
— Mary-Pat

The conversation lasted over an hour and could have easily gone on even longer - when moderator and Peace First CEO said he was taking final questions more hands were raised than could be called on. Following the formal conversation, the attendees found themselves huddled in various groups digesting and reveling in the conversation they were just privy to. The excitement around what Mary-Pat, Arne and Peace First are doing was palpable.

The Chicago Duet was an inspiring event and we all walked away feeling like we learned something about your important work and the many issues that contribute to Chicago’s violence.
— Attendee

Right now, these conversations are 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.

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 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,, 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 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.