The Blossoming of the DC Peace Team
In late 2010 Cortez McDaniel, a Community Change Agent with Phelps Stokes National Homecomers Academy (NHA) in DC met Eli McCarthy, Director of Social Justice at a local parish and a professor at Georgetown University. Like other former prisoners who have completed the Homecomers program of personal transformation, development, learning and service, Cortez is committed to building and rebuilding family and community networks of mutual support, including caring for persons living on the streets at the McKenna Center. Along with community organizing experience, Eli had received training from the Nonviolent Peace Force, which offers unarmed civilian peacekeeping and support to communities in conflict outside the US.
The two shared their stories and discovered a common commitment to bringing a sustainable justpeace to the city’s most violent and longstanding conflict zones. Together, they wanted to experiment with peacebuilding strategies in DC. Cortez scheduled meetings to introduce Eli, MJ and Jerry Park of Little Friends for Peace, and other local peace activists to Curtis Watkins, who directs the National Homecomers Academy, and to his fellow Community Change Agents. Together they launched the DC Peace Team with a focus on developing unarmed civilian peacekeepers. They engaged with the Peace Studies Program at Georgetown University, Tarek Maassarani of the Latin American Youth Center, Maura Scully of the Localizing Peace Initiative at American University, Marinetta Cannito Hjort of Transforming Conflicts, Restoring Justice, and other community peace actors, and began scheduling monthly meetings to develop plans and priorities.
Like the woman and men in the Award-winning documentary The Interruptors, which depicts a small corps of violence interrupters in Chicago, the Homecomers have street credibility. Many grew up in the neighborhoods they now want to heal, and all of them have experiences in common with the residents. Teaming with members of the wider community expands their sphere of influence and models the kind of city we want to see. Bringing these skills together with Little Friends for Peace, which specializes in peace education for youth, as well as other experienced trainers in nonviolent conflict intervention, restorative justice, academic expertise, and hearts for peacemaking, offers a rich, unique, and cutting edge blend of peacebuilding for a local community.
In 2011, the DC Peace Team built a strong network of internal and external relationships to build capacity, trained 25 community participants in nonviolent conflict intervention skills, including 5 Homecomers as trainers, and participated in the existing Safe Passage program which accompanies youth on their way to school in high risk neighborhoods.
In 2012, the DC Peace Team developed a six-month program of weekly monitoring Gallery Place to collect data, defuse hostility, and attend to police behavior. We also coordinated a youth violence prevention conference, outreached to the DC Police, and showed the documentary The Interrupters to three community groups. Another basic training was offered for 25 community participants. We continued the Safe Passage accompaniment program as well.
Since September 2012, our primary focus has been a comprehensive engagement in a selected neighborhood. The current project grew out of an established Homecomers program at Aiton Elementary School, located within the challenging neighborhoods of Deanwood and Lincoln Heights. As a first step, the program supports a group of struggling fourth graders. DCPT core partners Homecomers and Little Friends for Peace offer weekly peace education activities over a ten-week span.
In late 2012, we also began monitoring political demonstrations with the goal of defusing hostility and violence as well as cultivating empathy in the various parties. We began with monitoring the Westboro Baptist Church at Arlington Cemetery.
In 2013, we continued our engagement at Aiton. We also monitored the March for Life and a Drones protest, offered a restorative justice training to a program at Georgetown University working with youth in the juvenile justice system, and offered a 2-day training in nonviolent conflict intervention to 60 DC Police officers working in the schools. We hope you will come walk with us…
Peace Be With You!