We need to ensure young people can solve conflicts in many, many ways
We need to ensure young people can solve conflicts in many, many ways. It is so important that we give young people examples of the ways that they can be powerful and the ways that they can show respect through peace. A young boy might think what it means to be a man is to be violent toward women, to exert force in order to show his masculinity or prove how powerful he is. So he thinks that to be the one who makes a decision or who’s in control, he has to use violence, and that’s what it means to be a man. If he has no other frame of reference, he has no other way of understanding himself in the world or understanding who he wants to be.

Colby Swettberg, Ed.M, LCSW


Creating communities of caring
Anything that people can do to create a community of caring is going to make a difference. To know that there are people that they can go to if something is troubling them. To know that if the family is experiencing resource problems, there are systems in place to get them not just temporary assistance but back on a track to being able to provide for their family in a stable way. There are fragmented services, but if you pull them together in a more integrated fashion, they could really move things forward for a family. But often things come and go, an agency drops in and drops out, and it’s a burden on families to try to figure out how to juggle the different requirements of different agencies. There’s a lot that’s out there, but sometimes it’s hard to access because it’s not pulled together in a united and integrated way. If we start thinking about things as more of a connected network, we can what might be the strongest lever to pull in a child’s life to help them through the problems they’re experiencing related to just community violence.

Heidi Ellis, PhD


Starting with yourself
When young people are making choices about living peacefully, they should first define who they want to be. Be a change they want to see. They should look at their own form of violence and start with themselves first. Do not look at other people, but worry about how they’re treating their sister and their brother and their classmates. They should define peace for themselves, and question and redefine the reality they believe in.

Ulric Johnson, PhD


See examples of who they could become in the world
It’s about making sure that every young person can see examples of who they could become in the world. So there’s not just one way to be a man. There’s not just one way to be a woman, one way to be an adult. There are lots and lots of people. Who are you? Who do you want to be? Who are you today? Who do you aspire to be tomorrow? And look at all the different ways that people can connect with each other. And it’s not that you have to be an athlete or it’s not that you have to be a scholar or that there is one right way of being. It’s that all of these people have found ways to connect with one another and find their own voice and define their own success without having to use violence to get there. The conversation kind of boils down to those very basic values of diversity and love but we can carry those out in communities that are connected.

Colby Swettberg, Ed.M, LCSW


Finding something you want to do
If young people find something they know that they want to do, then they can make sure every step they take is a step closer to that. For example, if you want to become a police officer, you can spend some of your time taking self-defense classes. Do whatever it is that brings you forward. A lot of teens I know are gang-involved or in and out of detention centers because they don’t know what they want to do, or they don’t have much to do. Keep them occupied with things that they want to do, like, “I’d rather work and get money than beat somebody up and go to jail.” I tell them, I understand you don’t want to do this, but once you finish this, you’ll be ten steps ahead of other people who aren’t doing anything. Violence is out there, and unless you find a way around it, it’ll come looking for you.

Anthony Febo, Teacher and Spoken Word Artist


Being a part of something positive
Communities can help kids be safer by having more youth programs. You have teens showing other teens, “I’m doing something positive, you should come with me.” Community members can continue to support the programs that are trying to prevent violence with funding, and back us up when you see us trying to do things. Just encourage young people to be a part of something positive.

Masada Jones, Youth Leadership Coordinator at Lowell Community Health Center


Peacemaking is about stopping violence, and about not dehumanizing people
There’s peacemaking that you happen to see hanging around school. The little ones give solace, or put their arms around someone when they’re crying, or share a snack, or let somebody else on the slide. Those things are present everywhere, because peacemaking is about stopping violence, and about not dehumanizing people. When we celebrate and support the humanity of other people, we become peacemakers.

Steven Brion-Meisels, Former Director of Peace First


Put your money behind it
To prevent violence, you deal with the -isms of materialism, racism, sexism, and adultism, and you put your money behind that. It’s not that we don’t have the money for youth programs, or family programs, or educational programs, it’s that we choose to spend it on something else.

Ulric Johnson, PhD


Stepping outside of your comfort zone
I define peace-making around four concepts: one is communication, one is conflict resolution, one is cooperation, and the fourth one is what I call engagement. The notion is that you can stay out of trouble and avoid violence without being a peacemaker. To be a peacemaker you have to step outside of that comfort zone. If you’re a child, help the child who’s being isolated on the playground. Reach out and stand up for them. If you’re an adult, speak truth to power as best you can in the most respectful, non-violent way. Remember that institutional issues are core questions to preventing violence and promoting peace.

Steven Brion-Meisels, Former Director of Peace First


All it takes is one person
Say someone has a bad day at work. All it takes is one person asking “hey, how are you doing?” or “hey, what’s the matter?” or “beautiful day, huh?” Just make a story or something, just get to know that person. It might change their perspective and they’ll think “maybe the world isn’t so bad after all.” All it takes is somebody to break that bad day.

Veasna Mao Kang, Streetworker, United Teen Equality Center


Looking at community assets
It’s not about what we don’t have, but it’s about looking at the assets in my community. I’m surrounded by three, four health centers right in my area. I’m surrounded by churches and I’m surrounded by schools. Every single one of those entities should have a safe place for families that are impacted by violence.

Clementina M. Chéry, President and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute