When I think about a person associated with the word peace, I think about Mattie Stepanek, he was a courageous and inspirational child poet and peacemaker who I first heard speak on an Oprah Winfrey show in 2001. He passed away in June 2004 from the complications of a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Today his mother, Jenni continues to support her son’s mission of peace and hope through Mattie’s Foundation. (Worth checking out).
This summer I enjoyed attending the Elevating Impact Summit organized by Portland State University Impact Entrepreneurs and heard a new name who will be synonymous with the word peace in my mind too. Eric Dawson. While more mature that little Mattie, Eric Dawson is the co-founder and President of Peace First, an organization that works on the twin challenges of youth violence and disengagement by preparing children to be peacemakers. Most recently, Peace First launched Peace First Prize, modeled after the Nobel Peace Prize, for young people, to celebrate you peacemaking across the country. Read more about it in the New York Times.
Like any passionate and influential presenter, Eric took the stage to share his story and above all the story of many peacemakers who he has met. Eric was in high school during the Just Say No Generation although he was someone who wanted to make things happen. It was the start of the inclusion movement and witnessing the humiliation of a disabled student was his call to action. In his words, it was the time when students were no longer objects for knowledge to be poured into.
Eric talked about the crisis in the US whereby people think, talk and view young people in a predominantly negative light. He shared perspective and signaled hopefulness.
He talked about peacemaking as a core interpersonal and social skill. It starts with empathy, personal awareness, relationship building, promoting inclusion and is part of civil engagement. He believes that people spend too little time inviting young people into greatness and instead tell them a lot about what they can’t or should not do. Eric went on to tell stories about individuals who made a difference and shared four keen observations.
Moment of Obligation: Every individual experiences this moment that inspires action. Babatunde took action to bridge communication between police and young people because of the harassment of young people that he witnessed.
Peacemaking is different to service: Peacemaking is service plus presence, compassion, collaboration and courage to action. The presence of these attributes transform service into peacemaking.
Catalytic Leaders: Young people are often told about what they can’t do or shouldn’t do. Peacemakers are fearless leaders with courage, respect and resolve, they challenge assumptions to make things happen.
Unique Power: “Ignorance is a wonderful enabler for good” – this is something many young people bring to the table. Ignorance can be a gift and help make young people resourceful, determined and powerful. http://volunteennation.org/ was a product of ignorance about the barriers and challenges to bring about greater good to teens.
If Peace First accepted nominations for Peace First Prize, my vote would to Mattie who frequently reminds me of the gift, blessings he shared in pursuit of peace. While I’m not close enough to Mattie’s story to know about his moment of obligation. His courage, compassion, collaboration and presence was unwavering.