By: David J. Smith, March 30, 2015
Northampton Community College (NCC) in Bethlehem, PA held its 5th Annual Peace and Justice Conference on March 26. This year’s conference – sponsored by the Center for Peace, Justice, and Conflict Resolution – featured folk legend and activist Peter Yarrow, formerly of the musicial group Peter, Paul and Mary. Besides performing classics such as “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” Yarrow talked about the work of his not for profit, Operation Respect, which focuses on ending bullying. Before and after his talk and performance, I offered peacebuilding workshops for students, faculty, staff and community members.
A number of community colleges around the U.S. host annual peace and social justice conferences including Pasco Hernando State College (formerly Pasco Hernando Community College) (FL) and Lane Community College (OR). Two-year institutions are well positioned to support community-based initiatives designed to advance community engagement and wellness, and allow local residents to learn about important peacebuilding related issues.
Often a program or event becomes an opportunity to create a cross-generational gathering and sharing about community needs. Because the conference featured 1960s musical icon Yarrow, it drew many residents who had come of age during the civil rights and anti-war movement period. As one attendee said to me: “There were a lot of ‘white hairs’ in the room!” But with these “white hairs” were as many younger NCC students (a few with pink and blue hair!).
In my sessions I focused on fostering an intergenerational discussion on issues of peace and social justice. I drew on the wisdom and experience of the older attendees to inspire the younger ones. Likewise, the enthusiasm and spirit of younger students gave hope to the older ‘white hairs.’ Besides talking about impressions of peace and conflict, we talked about the use of social media in advancing social justice, current issues of violence including bullying, and ways to build on the passion rekindled during the gathering.
Prof. Vasiliki Anastasakos, who has been a champion of peace and social justice efforts at the college, organized the conference. A number of her students displayed poster projects they had developed as part of her honors political science course. Project topics included the stigma of mental illness, the problems of fracking, Islamophobia, and discrimination against people with disabilities.