Peace First Fellow and founder of Seeds of Hope provides a recap of the Good Starts Young Rally we held in Chicago with our partners, The Allstate Foundation.

Four years ago my Mom told me if I was going to leave our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA for college I would have to find a way to pay for my first year. As I realized my waitressing job at Chili’s wasn’t going to pay for my dream school, Temple University, this challenge drove me to a website called College Greenlight. The Peace First Peace was one of 92 scholarships I applied to, but this isn’t story of success and winning $25,000, this is a story of what I originally thought of as a failure. For two years I made it to the semi-finalist round of the Prize but never won. I was so upset but the universe always works in funny ways - losing the prize did not mean I wasn’t invited into the community.

Fast forward two years, I am inducted into the Fellowship Program and invited to help ten AMAZING teams of young people from across the world in the windy city of Chicago. When I walked into the planning session with the other fellows I could feel the hope, the intention, and the willingness to be flexible with whatever the week would present us. The love that fills the room is unlike anything else. Jasmine (the sweetheart), Tony (the joker), Amit (the cool kid), Grace (everyone’s little sister), Fish (the team leader), Imani (silent but strong), Tiffani (too hip to quit), Yasmine (everyone’s big sister), and Kylee (the organizer who makes sure we all have a good time when we are together). This group makes me feel like I belong and that I am surrounded by others like me.  Our goal was to help foster a community with the Peace First Challenge Teams over a three-day period.

As the Challenge Teams entered the ballroom they were quick to connect with others and wanted to start working right away! Peace First is super process-oriented so we started with getting to know each other in “human bingo” and other icebreaker activities.  In this room we had 13-year-olds from the Bronx talking to 21-year-olds from Yale about the issues that mattered to them. Young people were speaking on behalf of age old issues in unique and innovative ways; curriculum about peace and tolerance, neighborhood watch programs, technology to donate to those on free and reduced lunch programs, safe spaces for women of color, and so much more. Each team harnessed some of the most difficult times of their lives and used it as a catalyst of change. They used courage, compassion, and collaboration to create long-lasting change in their communities. Peace First brought the best of the best to the rally - from the Fellows with years of experience, to the facilitators who have more developed perspectives of the road blocks teams may be facing, to the judges who could give great feedback on each project.

Though this was called a challenge, the entirety of the week was about process and community. Our internal goal was to help team members first develop themselves and then develop their projects. The loving and supportive community we have harnessed in the Fellowship was what we were creating with each team. To work with each individual and learn about their story and background was the best part of the week. Hearing their stories were inspiring and drove each of us to reevaluate what we are contributing to our communities.

We are the unsung leaders of today. We are changing our own situations. We are changing the world. We are changing the narrative around young people. We are Peacemakers.

Check out images from the Rally here.