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A Community Peacebuilder Reflects on Safety in North Minneapolis

Date: March 4, 2024

By: Ethan Quezada

Join Ethan Quezada, a Community Peacebuilder based in North Minneapolis, as he reflects on his leadership journey. Ethan shares his motivation, the driving force behind his work with NP, and his excitement about Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP).  

Why Did I Join NP?

When I applied for the position of Community Peacebuilder (CPB), I was at a point in my life where my time at university was coming to an end (I majored in Global Studies with a Focus on Human Rights), I had become fully independent from my parents and assistance programs, and big questions of life were hitting me with full force. For years I had been moving through different phases of learning about the world, humanity, and the nature of life. Every class, conversation with my indigenous teachers, book, and reflection on my own experiences led me through constantly evolving encounters with the question of how we transform the present calamity into a safer, more beautiful future, and what will my role be in that transformation? Of course, I still ask these questions every day, but as I was facing the weight of unemployment, I was pushed to act.

I found the community peacebuilder position by looking up “Human Rights Jobs” on Google. I must admit, when I read the job description, I wasn’t convinced. I anticipated being a slightly softer version of an unarmed security officer, pulling shifts at supermarkets and smiling at everyone who passed by, which is a very worthy endeavor, but was not necessarily how I wanted to use all the knowledge and skills I had gone into $60,000 in debt for. What changed my view was the blog post on the website interviewing Will Wallace, Director of Community Peacebuilding- now my mentor and friend. Will’s vision for public safety in Minneapolis spoke profoundly on the epidemic of loneliness and disconnection in our communities. He outlined the grit and hard work it takes to rebuild a community of love, and how he imagines a neighborhood that looks out for itself, and maintains its safety through deep, caring relationships, rather than increased militarization and greater capacity for deterrence through violence. Then, I looked to the examples of NP's work in other country programmes, and I must admit, I was blown away. The approach seemed unheard of! Centering locals, non-partisanship, nonviolence...it seemed so soft, and yet, it works.

After doing this research on UCP methods and the CPB program, I decided I needed to apply. Here was a place where I could utilize a method that leaned on the ancestral practices I had been taught. A place where I could potentially use all my skills to answer the question: How do we take one step closer to a better future? So, I applied, and when I was offered the job, I accepted.

What Have I Learned from NP So Far?

I have been at NP now for a little over six months, and though the questions outlined above have become increasingly complexified, they have become so through the rigorous learnings and clarification of details that my time at NP has offered me. Here are my main takeaways from the last six months:

1. Consistency is everything: Having a solid theory of change, having the skills, and being good at talking to people goes a long way, but in the end, people trust and connect to the people that are familiar and show up. Because UCP relies on trust and connection to create safety and the space for dialogue, the ability to be consistent both in our physical presence and in our way of the work is mission critical.

2. Continuously question what you REALLY believe: Transforming the way we approach conflict requires transforming our relationships to truth, nature, justice, life, other people, and ourselves. To be able to change things at a big scale, we have to first turn inwards, to our centers, and address the things inside of us that actively perpetuate cycles of harm in our world. This is a difficult and everlasting process, but it is one of the most essential aspects of being a practitioner of UCP.

3. Find your fire and tend to it faithfully: This work takes a lot of physical, mental, and spiritual energy to do. To find your fire, that is, to find the source of that energy and tend to it is key. The source of that fire changes from day to day. Sometimes the hope for a better future is enough, other times what provides the necessary oxygen is the relationships I have with my coworkers, and so forth. Those energy levels also ebb and flow, so, for me, doing this work well means paying attention and tending to the condition of that “fire.” If it's roaring then I know it is a good time to push hard, and if it is just embers then it's a good time to reflect and rest or find another source of motivation. Finding what gives you energy and properly tending to that energy means better, more sustained work.

4. Live the question: The transformation we seek to create in our work as practitioners of UCP is undefined, ever evolving, and is only realizable in a future we may never see. Solid answers about virtually anything in this line of work are elusive at best, which, for me, has been an incredibly difficult point of confusion and frustration as I do this work. In expressing this frustration to a teacher, they spoke to me about how the nature of the work, and my relationship to it, changes when I switch my mindset from looking to answer the question to living it instead. For me, this has meant that, instead of trying to answer an impossibly large question first, and then moving into the action, the two “phases” happen simultaneously, and the very engagement of the work paired with the constant reflection on the question is enough for that day.

What Excites You About the Work Moving Forward?

I feel like we have been incubating over the last couple of years as a program. We have been building relationships and getting our intentions and our plans right, so that we can create something effective and sustainable. Now, it seems that all that work and preparation is very, very close to creating a sort of first iteration of NP programming in North Minneapolis, and that is incredibly exciting. On a personal level, I feel that I have learned and grown a ton in this position, and it's been exciting to see what kind of amazing things I can get up to in this work. Likewise, as much as I have learned in the last six months, I know that there will be more opportunity for living the question of this work even more faithfully in the future. I am really looking forward to that.

You can protect civilians who are living in or fleeing violent conflict. Your contribution will transform the world's response to conflict.