On January 29th, in the midst of a DC snowstorm, an interfaith, intergenerational group of friends and strangers gathered at Church of the Holy City to talk about the power of young people to lead change. Along with co-hosts Peace First, FaithJustice Foundation, and the Swedenborg Center, we were thrilled to welcome Eric Dawson, Founder and CEO of Peace First and author of Putting Peace First: 7 Commitments to Change the World, and Yasmine Arrington, Peace First Fellow and Founder and Executive Director of ScholarCHIPS, to share their wisdom.
You can read about some of our favorite parts of the conversation below, as well as watch the full event.
Let’s commit to supporting young people in our congregations and communities to lead change. As Peace First does, ask them “what do you care about?” and “how can we help?” Any young person can join the Peace First community at www.peacefirst.org to explore ideas, connect with other young people, and get support and funding to create their own solutions to the social challenges they care about.
And if you’re in the DC area and interested in helping develop a local youth social innovation challenge, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric told the story of speaking to a group of young people in Chicago about violence. All of them had experienced violence, most of them had ideas for how to address violence in their communities, only a handful had experienced adults asking them for their ideas, and none of them had experienced an adult offering to put resources behind their ideas. It’s time we start asking young people for their ideas and solutions and supporting them to implement those solutions. As Eric noted, there are 1.6 billion young people on this planet and they have ideas. Young people are disproportionately affected by the various social challenges of our world, from violence to poverty to inequality. They are close to the problem, so they have good solutions.
The problem, Eric points out, is that we tend to think about young people as either victims, perpetrators, or “the future,” which tells them they don’t matter today. And as adults, we have negative narratives about young people. A Gallup survey that asked adults their opinions of young people came back with “lazy,” “dangerous,” and “apathetic” as the top three descriptors. Seventy-one percent of adults have a negative image of young people. And only 1 percent of news stories about young people are positive, according to another study by the Berkeley Media Studies Group.
Peace First supports young people to develop their compassion, courage, and collaborative leadership to lead change, helping them identify injustice (and distinguish it from inconvenience) and take risks to cross lines of difference to find solutions. Like Babatunde, who after being harassed by police on his way home from an internship, realized that the problem was that the young people and police in his community are terrified of each other because they don’t know each other. So he organized a group of peers to partner with the police, going into police stations across Baltimore to run workshops where young people and police officers engaged in role-playing the other’s experience. Babatunde’s team trained two-thirds of the Baltimore police force.
Yasmine Arrington, who is a Peace First Fellow, then spoke about the organization she created as a high school student in DC, to support children of incarcerated parents. Yasmine shared the story of her relationship with her father, who was in prison while she was growing up, and how it led her to want to address some aspect of the issue of mass incarceration. Upon applying for college scholarships herself, she realized how little support there was for children of incarcerated parents and started ScholarCHIPS to support others like her to access higher education.
Yasmine spoke about the family members, teachers, pastors, professors, and organizations that supported her along her journey, which ultimately took her to Howard Divinity School. Upon graduating with her M.Div, she has faced a lot of tension she said with faith leaders who think she’s too young to preach from their pulpits. She feels the world telling her “wait your turn” and implored faith communities to support young people in their leadership.