From the classrooms to the streets of Washington, the DC Peace Team tackle the American capital’s toughest issue – urban violence.
Led by local citizens Cortez McDaniel, Curtis Watkins, Mary Joan Park and Eli McCarthy, they have established community networks and educational groups to defuse tensions in the neighbourhoods and with local police.
Cortez grew up on the streets, engaged in conflict and violence, and Eli experienced violence in the home. Together with their colleagues, they launched the DC Peace Team to develop unarmed ‘civilian peacekeepers’.
So what do they do on the ground?
Across a population of 6 million, they work to build trust between citizens and the police. They work with younger generations to prevent violence in schools and on the streets. And they reach
Last year, in collaboration with Homecomers and Little Friends for Peace, the Team worked across the inter-racial and inter-generational divide to run educational classes in Georgetown University. These hour-long sessions were designed for young students struggling at school – in the classroom or with peers.
The classes weren’t always plain sailing. Peace Team noted that students ‘were very fidgety, quick to become defensive and to physically threaten or push their peers. It was distressing to see the anger, lack of hope, and aggressiveness.’
To help combat aggression amongst participants, classes reflected on the choices they had. One example was the ‘door of choices’, a mocked-up full-size door that the students would approach at a prompt. They would say out loud what kind of choices they wanted to make next, open the door and step through. This helped them to practice a ‘stop-think-act’ model for resolving potential conflicts.
Teachers, parents and the school’s principal said they were surprised by the immediate change within the students, now able to use their conflict skills to stop incidents in school.
“We are delighted to shortlist this resourceful group,” said competition organiser Ruairi Nolan. “It’s fascinating to think that even in the capital of the USA, local peacebuilding has a relevance and use.”
Details of all the shortlisted entrants to Tomorrow’s peacebuilders can be found here.