By David J. Smith, October 2, 2016

The Association for Conflict Resolution conference was held this past week in Baltimore.

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ACR is the largest association of conflict resolution practitioners and educators in the U.S. I’ve been a continuous member of ACR since its formation.   I’m also a member of the Education, Research and Training (ERT) section of the organization.

The ERT section hosts a youth day program during the conference.   One day of the conference is devoted to programming for local students, generally from high schools and middle schools.  This year’s youth day was Friday, September 30.  I was glad to be able to work with the students that day.  I strongly believe in youth empowerment, but more over, I’m a Baltimore native and want to contribute in any way I can to foster peacebuilding in the city. (After the violence in  2015, I wrote an article in Huffington Post making the case for conflict prevention efforts [ “Preventing Another Baltimore,” Huffington Post, May 1, 2015]).

My colleague Tara Fishler ran a program looking at youth conflict resolution skills during the morning, and I offered a program on career awareness in the afternoon.  My program was titled “Building a Future Through Building Peace.”

Working with about 40 Baltimore high school and middle school students, I engaged them in two activities.  The first focused on having them consider their values and expectations for work.  In the second, they worked in groups to consider ways to bring peace to their community.

The first activity was called “What Am I Seeking in a Career Bingo.”  Here, students worked

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with a bingo sheet where in the blocks I indicated a range of interests that students can engage in: “Help people in need,” “Work to end poverty and suffering,” and “Try to end violence against women” are examples.   Students could ask another student only two questions.  If  the interest of  the student being asked corresponded with the question asked, the student wrote their name in the box.   Once the student asking the questions got 5 across, 5 down, 5 diagonal, or 4 corners and the center, they won!   In actuality, I wanted every student to win.   The objective here is to get students to not only consider their own interests, but learn about other students’ interests as well. In this way, they can find others to work with.

The second activity was called “Peace Entrepreneur.”  Here, students role played as members of a design/manufacturing company called “Make the Peace, Inc.”  In teams they were asked to come up with a product or service that might be used to “increase community peace.”  The teams make a poster, and at the end make a pitch to the the other teams.   Each team  worked with a law student from the University of Maryland who was designated their consultant.

This exercise had several objectives.   Most importantly, students often have

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important insight as to what their community needs are.   As adults, we often make assumptions that are not accurate. Young people are living day to day in communities where violence, injustice, and deprivation are the norm.  Youth are also incredibly creative and can come up with ideas that will directly improve their condition.   They often see the connection between peacebuilding and community wellness that adults don’t see.

The products and services that the students came up with were wide ranging.  One group recommended that a youth center would provide opportunities for young people to gather

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together, play sports, engage in out of school activities, and build community.   Another team recommended a trauma healing center.   One member of that team talked about the trauma that exists in his community and how it wasn’t being addressed. Another team recommendation something that I didn’t expect: making sure that all schools had air conditioning. This team argued that without A/C, students are unable to learn and feel comfortable.  The heat creates more tension… and potentially, more violence!   The teams at the end made their pitch for the product or service.  One team did it in rap!

As educators and practitioners, we must  include youth in considering strategies for building peace in communities, ensuring social justice, fostering development, and overall improving the quality of life.   As adults don’t have all the answers: working with young people we let them know we value their insights and knowledge, thereby empowering them to make change.

Both of these exercises are part of the student guide I am creating as part of my book Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace.  If you are interested in the exercises I used at ACR, drop me an email at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com, and I will be pleased to send you the worksheets.