Community Peace Builders Initiative Starts in Minnesota
At the start of February, we welcomed four Community Peace Builders (CPBs), as well as their mentor Will Wallace, to our Minneapolis-St. Paul team.
Peacebuilding is most effective and most likely to succeed when local voices, particularly those most targeted by violence, are at the helm. As a supporter of Nonviolent Peaceforce, you know that local communities take the lead in all of our program locations, both nationally and internationally. Now, the Community Peace Builders continue that ethos and legacy as they work to address community conflict and violence in North Minneapolis, building towards a world where communities navigate conflicts without the threat of force and work together to address systemic violence.
For the CPBs, this has looked like hosting a weekly discussion and training for youth. The CPBs are sharing and modeling de-escalation tools, leading asset-based community mapping sessions and facilitating conflict resolutions among youth and between youth and families as tension rises due to increased time at home. Each conversation and exercise serves to uplift youth agency and create a safe opportunity for youth to share, fueling a cultural shift towards emotionality and vulnerability.
Sam Taitel, the Twin Cities Program Manager expressed, “The Community Peace Builders are exemplars of why peace, in language and behavior, transcends cultural divides. While many of our values may be aligned, we need to honor that they are expressed in a myriad of ways. I am excited for the team to expand NP's offerings so that our work is accessible to, serves, and reflects the community.” They will be focusing their work on addressing gun violence and community violence in North Minneapolis, as well as adapting UCP training to resonate with the needs and strengths of Northside residents.
Working Together Towards Peace
Each of the new Community Peace Builders has a long history of mentoring and community care through their work with EMERGE, a North Minneapolis-based community development organization that houses a work readiness program for young men impacted by gang and clique violence.
Back in 2020, the EMERGE youth saw a natural connection between the work they were doing to care for their community and the ability to keep their community safe. NP teamed up with EMERGE to offer a series of trainings on nonviolence, de-escalation and mutual protection.
“What brought me to NP was Mel Duncan, Founding Director, and Rosemary Kabaki, NP Myanmar Head of Mission,” reflected Elijah O’Neal (Eli). “They came into my job and taught me nonviolent skills that I never thought would help me. But in the long run it really changed my life, learning how to dial down a situation and find a common ground between two parties.”
“I’ve seen a lot of things happen in my community; I’ve done a lot of bad things in my community. I wanted to change my life around for a better future.”
Together with their mentor, the group has provided protection during various events in the community, from the Chauvin trial to a series of vigils, with a special focus on youth protection. And now, they will put their relationship-building and community protection experience to work as part of NP.
"I played a small part in the bad in my community, now I want to play a big part in fixing it,” expressed Davion Jones (DJ). “I enjoy people genuinely helping others. The other Peace Builders I work with are special. We come from some of the same and we built a relationship with the community. I can trust them no matter what.”
The Community Peace Builders are putting into practice de-escalation strategies used by communities around the world. From Myanmar to Minneapolis, we know that connected and engaged communities are the foundation of safety.
“I wanted to join NP after I worked with Mel and learned it’s not just a community thing, it’s a worldwide thing. I wanted to be a part of it,” expressed Randy Taylor. He’s motivated by “knowing I’m doing something good.”
Randy found the initial training to be powerful and said it impacted “the way that you communicate with people. You don’t have to be the loudest one to get everyone’s attention or get your point across.”
“What I learned from the other brothers is really taking the lead and not holding back. They’re very outspoken.” Randy added: “It’s really our relationship. Our bond. Everybody has different skillsets. Everybody can be the lead at times, but everybody works together.”
And now the Community Peace Builders are harnessing their relationships and passion to model and build a nonviolent future, where conflicts are addressed without guns and without violence.
“I like working with the other brothers because we got an understanding, which means we may not always agree on the same thing, but instead of arguing and fighting about it we just look at it from all our point of views then discuss it among each other,” shared Markess Wilkins.
Will Wallace, The Community Peace Builders’ mentor reflected, “They're changing their mindsets from ‘stop the violence’, to ‘reduce the violence’ to de-escalation training and unarmed civilian protection. We're the first group of young people talking about de-escalation and unarmed civilians in the Twin Cities. It's a very unique approach. I think these guys are on to something when it comes to that language.
I'm thankful that I'm in a position to be able to provide the leadership and direction.”
Moving in a Positive Direction
Even before they started with NP, the Community Peace Builders were shifting narratives and perceptions in their communities.
And now, with NP’s support, they have an even bigger platform.
“We're giving them a leadership role to provide this type of direction for the community and their peers,” Will explains.
When the community is having safety meetings, the Community Peace Builders are showing up in large numbers with their peers to represent the youth in the community and talk about how they're willing to change the narrative. They're having an impact on the younger brothers about their community and stopping the violence.
“They are making an impact on their friends’ lives by spreading the message to organizations, barber shops and churches. They are having an impact on the community and on themselves,” Will adds.
Markess reflected: “Something that brings me to NP is really bettering myself and the others around me for a safer environment for our next generation. It’s going to have to start with us because we are who this generation is looking up to, so we are obligated to do right by them. They do what they see. So let’s turn all the negative energy to positive energy,”
In their recent community mapping session, the Community Peace Builders looked at the location and root of many forms of friction and potential causes of violence. But more importantly they highlighted and celebrated their community’s assets, rather than seeing all bad. After the group meeting, the CPBs reflected that the youth had identified more "good spots" than they had when they went through the training nearly a year and a half ago. On those chart papers was a sentiment of hope that the cultural shift was beginning, that the community was moving in a positive direction.