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Apr 17
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“Doing Good”

meetingImagining Peace: The Journey Is the Goal

a personal reflection by Gretchen Neve, Chicago

The Imagining Peace Conference opens Friday night, April 26, with a talk by the Sakyong followed the next day, Saturday April 27, with the Youth Congress on Peace. Sunday, April 28, will be a day of Peace Practices.

Last weekend in Chicago, youth leaders were brought together to train in facilitation. A group of about 60 people gathered at the Chicago Urban League for facilitation training led by Adam Davis, Director of the Center for Civic Reflection and Thomas Toney from Chicago Cares. Their objective was to prepare us with the basics required to lead the conversation circles scheduled to be part of the Youth Congress on Peace.

meeting 2The enthusiasm of young people in the room about the task at hand was palpable. Asked to say one or two words to describe how we felt about facilitating, many of the youth responses expressed confidence: “I’m excited”, “cool”, “yeah” or “good”. Their willingness to step up and lead the conversations was remarkable.

After some introductory remarks we were divided into two groups and moved from an auditorium style seating to two conversation circles. We noticed an immediate difference. Auditorium style seating felt like school — everyone’s attention is focused on the teacher/leader. In a circle you can see everyone — everyone’s voice is important.

Adam and Thomas each worked with one circle to facilitate a conversation in a similar style to the facilitation that will take place during the Imagining Peace event. Later we reflected together on the techniques used by the facilitators, how the environment supported the conversation, and how they established a “vibe”, through their questions, acknowledgment, and body language, of respect and inclusion that encouraged participation.

meeting 5At lunch I started a conversation with two young African American men sitting next to me by asking why they came to the event. The young man to my right said that he heard about the Youth Peace Congress through his school and it sounded very interesting. He invited the guy sitting next to him, his cousin. Asked why he made that invitation, he said that he wants his cousin to have support for “doing good” and this seemed like a good thing to do.

For the next 25 minutes, both young men answered lots of questions from me without batting an eye. Asked if there is any safe place in their community, one said, “No. Not really. Family is my safe space.” His cousin nodded in agreement adding, “Not school, not a movie theater, not a restaurant. Not walking down the street.” Every once in a while their knees touched slightly as they talked. They leaned into each other almost imperceptibly. Family is safe.

After talking with the cousins for a while I apologized for asking so many questions. The younger one looked up and said, “I like answering your questions. I appreciate that you are listening. It’s good to talk.”

Over the course of the day I learned that “doing good” isn’t so easy in an environment where a constant state of heightened vigilance and some amount of toughness is required for survival. A young woman talked about doing time in “juvi.” Asked why, she explained that she was in a situation where she had to do something bad even though she didn’t want to do it. So she “did what she had to do.” And it landed her in detention. But she was alive. That is what mattered most.

Today she has found her way into a different life, she explained with a big smile. As a member of a youth leadership organization she recently participated in a national meeting in the Capital where, she was very surprised to learn, youth violence is a serious problem in neighborhoods close to the White House. It isn’t just a problem in Chicago.

meeting 4After a full day of learning and conversation, Adam pointed out that the room felt very different in contrast to the morning. Looking around the room, people were talking and laughing with each other. Some were exchanging contact information. It was clear that something more than learning about facilitation had taken place over the course of the day. A tangible sense of connection and community had developed. Moments of basic goodness in the room along with expressions of kindness stood out. Seeds of leadership and community building had begun to take root.

The Youth Congress on Peace will provide an experience of mindfulness and bring together parts of the Chicago community and others who are not usually able to meet and listen to each other. After the conference the focus will be taking the peace platform developed during the conference forward.

The process of Imagining Peace — before, during, and after the event itself – is shaping up to be a powerful vehicle for listening, learning, connecting, and working together to create a platform for peace. In this way, the peace journey is inseparable from the goal.

Join us! imaginingpeace.com

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