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.