International Day of Peace at Baltimore’s Friendship Academy

Friendship Academy students working on their peace mural

Today I spent the day at the Friendship Academy Charter School in Baltimore, MD, where the faculty and staff had organized a series of workshops in recognition of the International Day of Peace.

My colleague, Jake Fitzpatrick, and I facilitated a series of workshops for about 150 high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors (3 sessions of 40-50 students each).  Our workshop had students first think about some of their own experiences where they felt they contributed to creating a more peaceful environment – whether it be cooking dinner for a loved one, breaking up a fight in school, lobbying for a social justice cause, or stepping away from a potentially combative situation and taking a deep breath to prevent one’s anger from lashing out.  We then talked a bit about the history and mission of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and how its an organization that actually educates and teaches people how to fight in order to stand up for one’s rights, resist oppression, and bring forth a more just and free society.

It was interesting to see the student’s expression when, on the International Day of Peace, we described our work as teaching people how to fight.  This was an important lesson, however, that peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict. In fact, movements for peace and social justice oftentimes require that a conflict be waged.  The question is not whether the conflict should be waged but how it should be waged, and this is where the power, strategy, and pragmatism of nonviolent action comes in to play.

Student helped craft a definition of civil resistance by defining, in pairs, “power,” “conflict,” and “resistance,” – concepts and words whose meanings are integral to understanding how and why civil resistance works.

We looked at several historical examples of civil resistance (U.S. Civil Rights Movement, India’s Independence Movement, Anti-Apartheid Movement, and the Danish resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II).  We also looked a specific tactics – strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations – and analyzed the different way these tactics allow ordinary people changed the power dynamics in a given structure.

Download workshop plan.

Several other peace educators and activists came to facilitate different workshops as well including:

Mainlehwon Ebenezer Vonhm, who runs the Center for Peace Education – an organization that promotes peaceful coexistence among Liberians by empowering youth, adults, and elders with the tools necessary to solve disputes/conflicts peacefully and nonviolently among themselves while addressing the trauma the Liberian Civil War has created.

Johonna McCants who runs the Visions to Peace Project – an organization that uses arts, media, education, and organizing to foster and strengthen youth-led action for peace.

Barbara Wien, peace education professor at American University and Georgetown University, and a real inspiration of mine!

Download the outline of the day’s events.

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