Guest Blog Post: Kevin Nguyen and Maddy Wegner talk PeaceJam and Partnerships
Maddy Wegner, Director of Training and Innovation at youthrive and Kevin Nguyen, Vice-Chair of the youthrive Cabinet co-wrote the following piece on PeaceJam and intergenerational learning. Maddy and Kevin exemplify an authentic youth-adult partnership, one that reflects the work of youthrive and offers a space where each person supports and learns from the other. Youthprise is committed to supporting and strengthening these relationships and we are thrilled that Maddy and Kevin have offered to share their experiences in organizing PeaceJam, and how it impacts the work they do with youthrive.
“What matters is not what you are called; what matters is what you answer to.”
These were the words of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, making the link between bullying and violence during the Upper Midwest PeaceJam Youth Leadership Conference held in North Minneapolis, April 27-28.
With North Community High School and nearby Oak Park as centers of activity, the nonprofit youthrive convened about 400 PeaceJam participants from a five-state area to explore peace-building. A weekend of workshops, service-learning projects, and conversations underscored the theme “ Hope: Ignite Action to Break the Cycle of Violence.”
Gbowee shared her stories of organizing and activism among Christian and Muslim women, which helped bring an end to Liberia’s civil war in 2003 — first with the PeaceJam participants and then with incarcerated youth at Stadium View in Minneapolis.
Later that afternoon, she joined PeaceJam participants in painting bikes for the community, dancing in a flash mob to bring attention to gender-based violence, painting a mural, planting a peace pole, and cleaning up Oak Park Neighborhood Center’s playground to prepare it for summer. In short, all built connections and celebrated peace-building in what felt like the Twin Cities’ first taste of summer after a very long winter.
But summer can also herald a resurgence of violence, and every step taken that weekend worked against the prevalence of gun violence during the same months that get Minnesotans outside.
During a public talk Saturday night in Brooklyn Park, youthrive cabinet member Kevin Nguyen asked Gbowee about the role of young people in ending violence, to which she answered: “Embrace diversity… We must learn to talk with each other rather than at each other.”
Peace Jammers responded in kind. Many led Sunday workshops on hip hop messaging and nonviolence, girls’ empowerment, and healthy dating relationships. Youth leaders emceed as groups presented their “Global Calls to Action” to Gbowee — local service-learning projects that are tied to international issues identified by the 13 Nobel Laureates that work with youth across the globe through PeaceJam.
All had studied identity, difference, power and privilege, civil discourse and nonviolence — elements of the PeaceJam curriculum implemented in out-of-school and in-school settings from West Fargo High School, to Hennepin County Juvenile Justice Center, to a Unitarian Church in White Bear Lake.
Reminding PeaceJam participants that “It doesn’t take a lot to make change,” Gbowee advised young people to: “Walk humbly; love mercy; and do justice.”
Since PeaceJam, Nguyen has already been “doing justice” at Highland Park Middle School in St. Paul. As a high school student facilitator, he has been involved in a two-day Youth Frontiers conference designed to build positive school communities, leading small group discussions and team-building activities. One of the event’s topics has been courage, so Nguyen says he has been quoting Gbowee in conversations about name-calling.
Throughout these recent events, Nguyen said he was reminded that “We’re not the only ones carrying out the service; millions of other kids are also helping.”
His work as a peace-builder is an example of the kind of systemic change that Gbowee stakes Liberia’s — and the Twin Cities’ — nonviolent future on.
As Gbowee said: “We tell young people, ‘Tomorrow you will take over. Well, tomorrow’s here!”
To access the PeaceJam training and curriculum, visit www.youthrive.net or call 612-354-7571.