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PEACE in Action

Using Multi-Track Diplomacy to Deal With Ethnic Conflict


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Building a Culture of Peace
An Urban Grass-Roots
Youth Violence Prevention Initiative

"Establishing lasting peace is the work of education. All politics can do is keep us out of war."
—Maria Montessori

A neighborhood collaborative was founded to address issues of youth violence

This article traces the recent history of the founding of a neighborhood collaborative in the city of Hartford, Connecticut, to address issues of youth violence. It is one attempt to work toward building a culture of peace, starting with networking and outreach, and capitalizing on the strengths and creativity of the individuals and groups involved.

The city of Hartford is home to many of the nation's most prestigious insurance companies and hosts the first free art museum in the United States. It is steeped in colonial history. Hartford also is one of the most impoverished cities in the nation, joining two other Connecticut cities, New Haven and Bridgeport, for this dubious honor. Hartford is bustling and full of people and alive during the day and is quiet by 6 PM, as thousands of commuters return home to the outlying suburbs and towns. Governmental structures in Connecticut favor local town control, resulting in perceptions among suburbanites that issues relating to Hartford should remain the concern of those who live in the city and pay city taxes. Regional based services, including transportation and education, are weak -- though incrementally growing in strength and in number.

Pax Educare, a newly-emerging center devoted to educating for peace, began late in 2002 in an Episcopal Church parish house in one of the poorest sections of Hartford with one of the highest crime statistics in the city. The mission of Pax Educare is to link scholars, educators and activists to resources, curricula and training in peace and conflict studies, nonviolence, human rights and ecology.

One of the city's oldest public housing projects, scheduled for demolition, is next door to the Center. Many of the children of the projects play on the large expanse in front of the parish building and love to come into the building, with its 150-year-old castle-like appearance and structure. Along with the sounds of children, dogs and neighborhood barbecues, the housing project is also home to prostitution, drug trafficking and related violent crimes that spill over into the surrounding areas.

Our aim was peacebuilding

In founding the Center, our aim was to become involved in efforts toward peace building -- in the neighborhood, in the city, and beyond -- and to make the connections between issues of peace and conflict at home, in the nation, and in the world. The Center has a small research and lending library (500+ volumes); it consults to schools, community and religious organizations; publishes a newsletter several times a year; and offers skillbuilding workshops. Our Center collaborates with other groups -- local colleges and peace and justice groups -- to host speakers and to sponsor events.

Following a horrific act of violence in the neighborhood in which we are located -- a 39-year-old retarded man was severely beaten by several teens and subsequently died -- Pax Educare was able to take the lead in establishing a neighborhood coalition to address issues of youth violence.

The Governor's SSCC gave a grant to EDUCARE

This was accomplished with funding from the Governor's Prevention Partnership's Safe Schools and Communities Coalition (SSCC), a public-private agency founded several years ago to address prevention issues on a statewide basis. SSCC had received a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to build and evaluate the capacity of community-based youth vioence collaboratives to develop and implement comprehensive violence prevention plans. SSCC gave a one-year $12,500 grant to EDUCARE and the other community collaborative in the state, plus an additional $2,500 to fund several youth violence prevention mini-grants directly to youth.

Our initial coalition consisted of EDUCARE and four other organizations: two schools; a social service agency; and the department of social work of a local Catholic women's college. Each of these groups had a connection with Pax Educare prior to the development of the coalition. I had been consulting with the A.E. Burr School -- an inner city K-8 school located near the Center -- in helping to develop their student support center where conflict resolution skills were taught. I had also been consulting with the staff of Watkinson School, a private grade 6-12 day school on the outskirts of Hartford which had a strong mission to educate for peace. Trust House, a family literacy and educational center founded by a group of Catholic Sisters, is located in the church community center where I am. We had begun our conversations around commonalities in our missions. I was also teaching a peace studies course in Saint Joseph College's Department of Social Work.

SSCC has provided technical assistance

In each of these settings, I was closely identified with one or more key people, either an administrator or a staff member, who had keen interest in making and building community connections and in working for peace. The Governor's SSCC has provided technical assistance and support. Our project is being evaluated by a group of scholars from Central Connecticut State University, following an action research model. We receive continued feedback from the researchers.

Our vision, simply put, is to build safe communities for youth and families in Hartford. Our mission is to: (1) strengthen and unify a coalition representing a crosssection of groups servicing youth and families in the greater metropolitan area; and (2) expand school, family and community support for youth at risk for violence. Our goals include:

  • Providing experiences of conflict transformation and alternative ways of dealing with anger and aggression;
  • Providing good role modeling;
  • Developing leadership capacity-building experiences;
  • Providing safe educational experiences; and
  • Providing linkages between community support systems to expand learning and to build bridges.

Pax Educare was established as the coordinating agency. We hold monthly meetings of the collaborative, and we are expanding to include representatives of a wide variety of organizations. Activities have included: (1) collaborative work between the family resource staff at Burr School and at Trust House; (2) providing joint workshops in conflict resolution for families within our constituencies; and (3) the continued sharing of information about the ongoing work of each of our organizations, including the development of new activities to address youth violence prevention. In addition, members of the coalition have facilitated a workshop at a local intergenerational community peace education event that was coordinated by Pax Educare.

A main focus has been to promote HIPP

The main focus of our work has been to expand and to develop working partnerships around promoting HIPP (Help Increase the Peace) � (www.afsc.org/hipp.htm). HIPP is a dynamic, interactive and engaging program based on dialogue and interactive learning. It is the youth version of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), established by Quakers several decades ago in the prisons. HIPP is a project of the American Friends Service Committee (www.afsc.org), a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. The local AFSC committee provides in-kind support for the workshops, including food and snacks. Recently, Trinity College, through a Kellogg Foundation Grant, has funded AFSC to further develop HIPP throughout the metropolitan area.

Participants build skills for responding to conflicts without violence

Through 3-day workshops and follow-up activities, participants build skills for responding to conflicts without violence, analyze the impact of societal injustice on their lives and the lives of others, take action for positive and nonviolent change. There are three levels of workshops: Basic, Advanced and Training of Trainers. Eventually, youth are able, after completing the final workshop in the series, to help co-facilitate future sessions.

We continue to hold HIPP trainings at all three levels for students and staff from the various organizations in the coalition -others in the community by invitation. We now have a number of students trained who are able to co-facilitate workshops. We also include former inmates trained in AVP who co-facilitate. Their deep sharing of the impact of violence on their lives and how they have been transformed is often deeply moving.

The challenge for us now is to envision our future as a coalition, and to secure continued funding for the work we are doing. Our initial grant will end in June of 2004. Thankfully, the Governor's Prevention Project is proactive in terms of offering support and guidance through this process.

Our goal is to begin to create a culture of peace

Elise Boulding discusses "peaceableness" as an action concept, involving a constant reshaping of understanding, situations and behaviors in a constantly changing life-world, to sustain well-being for all.1 Our goal, as a coalition, has been to begin to create a culture of peace, beginning with where we are, right in our neighborhood, and to connect issues of peace and conflict here to peace and justice everywhere. Our challenge is for our processes to remain truly dynamic and active, responding to changes as they occur, yet remaining constant in our vision and in our mission.


1Cultures of Peace: the Hidden Side of History. Syracuse University Press, 2000, p. 1.
Mary Lee Morrison, Ph.D., is the founder and director of Pax Educare, the CT Center for Peace Education, located in Hartford. She teaches peace studies at Saint Joseph College and is the co-author, with Ian Harris, of Peace Education (McFarland 2003) and a forthcoming biography of Quaker sociologist and peace researcher and educator Elise Boulding (McFarland 2005). Dr. Morrison, a Quaker, is active in her local and yearly meetings. Contact information: marylee898@comcast.net. www.paxeducare.org.


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