Editor's note: For the full answers from Rev. Angelo Mante of Alive Community Outreach and Marie Mante of the Peacemaker Academy, click on the link to this story at journalgazette.net/opinions.
1 Twelve South Side High School students recently were celebrated as the inaugural graduates of Peacemaker Academy. What is that and how did it start?
Peacemaker Academy is a three-week nonviolent leadership development program for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors at South Side High School. The program is focused on nonviolence training and culminates with a student-designed plan to build a culture of peace at their school. ... (O)ur staff will support students in implementing their plan.
The initial inspiration ... came from North Lawndale College Prep, a Chicago high school that has dramatically reduced school violence through peace and nonviolence education. We started to dream about how to make a program like this happen in our own city about two years ago. ... (T)hrough great partnerships with organizations like Rotary Club and City Life (Youth for Christ), our vision finally became a reality with our summer pilot this year.
2 Why is learning about peacemaking and nonviolence particularly important now?
... (T)his has been a particularly violent year. Hate crimes, domestic extremism and gun violence are all on the rise. ... Locally, our city has experienced more homicides over the past decade than during any 10-year stretch in our history. As much as we believe in the importance of praying for peace, the world, our nation, our city desperately needs those who are courageous enough to make peace.
What we love about nonviolence as a framework for peacemaking is that it forces us to lean into conflicts and address root problems, rather than simply finding the quickest escape route when situations become tense. Nonviolence also compels us to confront conflict and injustice without attacking persons, always keeping the path of reconciliation in view. Perhaps most importantly, nonviolence challenges us to deal with the internal violence within our own spirits – a challenge we believe we must heed if we are ever to truly break free from the cycle of violence and injustice.
3 How did Peacemaker Academy come together, and why were South Side students chosen for the first class?
After we lost a family member to homicide in 2016, we felt called to move back to Fort Wayne and do something to address the city's problem with violence. We stepped out in faith and began to build the foundation for what eventually became Alive Community Outreach. We ... also wanted to do something around prevention, and especially around helping the next generation discover a better way.
...(W)e spent an entire year deepening our own commitment to nonviolence and connecting with nonviolence advocates and organizers from across the world... . As we shared our vision and heard feedback..., it was clear we were on the right path and that this program could become something really special for our city.
We chose South Side ... because it's a great school full of great kids and led by outstanding administrators and staff who are forward-thinking and willing to try new things. ... Also, it's no secret that there's a high concentration of gun violence on the south side of Fort Wayne and there are many students at South Side who've been affected. We believe a critical part of our work is helping young people transform their pain and personal tragedies into purposeful action.
4 What are your goals for Peacemaker Academy students and graduates?
... Our short-term goal is that students will internalize what they've learned and commit themselves to promoting an intentional culture of peace at school. If students follow through with their plan and continue to build upon the skills they learn in the academy, we are confident that they will play a significant role in reducing violence and making peace.
Our long-term goal for students is to become peacemakers in the broader community. ... We're teaching students to analyze violence at the root level, whether we're looking at fights in school or homicides in the community. So the ultimate goal for our students is that they will take what they're learning and lead us all into a better future.
5 The program will expand next year. To which schools? Will there be additional programming as part of the expansion?
These are great questions which we are still exploring ourselves. As with any pilot, there will be an in-depth debriefing process and many conversations about what's next... . We learned a lot over the past few weeks, but perhaps the most significant thing we learned is just how hungry students are for this. We do know, unequivocally, that we want to expand. The primary question ... is whether we should spend more time building the foundation at South Side before we add other schools. There are many factors that will play into our decision for next year, but we do want the community to know that we absolutely intend to add more schools in the future.