By: Jordan Goldwarg, Kids4Peace Seattle Chapter Director
Remarks from Inspiring Hope, Our Kids4Peace Seattle Annual Benefit
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit our Kids4Peace chapter in Lyon, France, and while I was there, someone asked me what it is like to be living in the United States right now, a time of so much unrest and turbulence. I thought about it for a moment, and then I replied, “It’s an awful time to be living in the United States right now. And it is also an amazing time to be living in the United States right now.”
He looked at me a little bit puzzled, and I think this was understandable. I am sure that many of you in this room tonight can understand what I meant when I said that it is an awful time. Every day brings a fresh assault on the rights, equality, and dignity of just about anyone who is considered to be different or the other. And it’s important for me to acknowledge, as a cis white man, that I have only recently begun to understand the magnitude of the awfulness that so many black, brown, trans, Native, Latino, immigrant, and disabled people, not to mention all women, have been living with for so long.
The discrimination and attacks that people experience on a daily basis is nothing new, but it has become so much more visible over the last two years to those of us born with privilege. And this is actually why it is also an amazing time to be living in the United States right now. Every single day, we wake up, and we are presented with abundant opportunities to make a positive change in our communities and in the world. Let me give three quick examples.
Do you care about racism? If so, you can get involved with the No New Youth Jail campaign here in Seattle, helping to end the school-to-prison pipeline and the disproportionate incarceration of so many kids of colour.
Do you care about Islamophobia? If so, almost every week, there are mosques and other community groups hosting open houses and potluck meals to get to know each other.
Do you care about refugees? If so, you can help sponsor a family while also lobbying our elected officials to bring more refugees into the country. This is especially urgent, since I was shocked to learn last week that so far this year, a total of 11 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the US.
Of course, as has always been the case, if we want to make the world a better place, we should follow the lead of our youth. Who can ignore the power of Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Wadler, and so many other kids who have mobilized a movement that is creating change that adults have been incapable of achieving for a generation? Who would have thought that the state of Florida, under a Republican governor and a Republican legislature, would pass gun control laws?
Naomi Wadler (left) and Emma Gonzalez (right) speaking at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. on March 24th.
And in Kids4Peace, we are so proud of our youth who are part of this growing wave of young activists, helping to shape society in more peaceful, compassionate, empathetic ways. You have already heard from a number of our kids, and I’m sure you’re as impressed by them as we are, but I want to highlight just three specific ways that our youth are making an impact.
First, last fall, our 10th graders, who had recently returned from our Global Institute leadership program in Washington, DC, decided to join the I-940 De-Escalate Washington campaign. If you’re unfamiliar with this campaign, it was an initiative to the state legislature to require police in our state to receive conflict de-escalation training while also making it easier to hold police accountable when there has been excessive use of force. This initiative was designed to help keep all of our communities safer, recognizing all the while that communities of colour are disproportionately affected by police
Our youth spent the fall collecting signatures for the initiative, while also helping to educate others through conversations and spreading the word through social media. Lia, one of our 10th graders who worked on the campaign, and who you will hear from later tonight, said, “As 10th graders, even though we still can’t even vote, we think it is very important for us to be aware of social justice and how police brutality and injustice in all forms is something that affects us. We in Kids4Peace feel compelled to fix things that are broken in our society.” And the work of our kids paid off: the state legislature passed I-940 during the closing days of its session last month, making it the law of the land.
My second example comes from our Jerusalem chapter. In the city of Jerusalem, despite the fact that about 1⁄3 of the population speaks Arabic as their first language, when films are shown in cinemas, they only contain Hebrew subtitles. Our high-school youth are working on a campaign with the municipality of Jerusalem and the cinemas to add Arabic subtitles to films. While this might seem like a small change, it would have a huge impact on creating more visibility for the Palestinian population, and more importantly, it would make cinemas a shared space, where Israelis and Palestinians can come together for common experiences, something that is incredibly rare in a very segregated city.
And while we love to see this kind of large-scale activism, we also value the changes that our kids make in their communities every day. At the risk of embarrassing Jacob, whom you heard from a few minutes ago, I want to say a word about his robotics team at Issaquah High. For over a year, the team had been experiencing rising tension between two groups that had different ideas about how the team should operate. Jacob, being the leader that he is, turned to skills honed in Kids4Peace to try to solve the problem. He offered to lead a dialogue session for nearly 30 team members with the goal of creating a community agreement that would help to establish norms for how team members interact with each other. The dialogue session was a success: Jacob created a safe environment in which everyone was able to express themselves and agree to a common set of values for the team, something that has really shifted the group dynamic this year. And in fact, the session was so successful that Jacob was asked to lead a similar session for other robotics teams in the region. Best of all, all of the kids in our core leadership program are trained to lead workshops like this.
Jacob facilitating a conversation with a small group of students.
These three examples give you just a taste of the new emphasis in Kids4Peace on supporting our youth to take public action and stand up for the values they believe in. Kids4Peace has always been about engaging in dialogue with people who are different, and that is still a big part of what we do. But we are following the lead of our youth, who have been telling us that dialogue alone is not enough; it must also be paired with action.
And we are working to develop new ways to engage even more youth in our work. This year, thanks to a grant from the Seattle Foundation, we have launched a series of youth advocacy workshops, run in partnership with a broad range of other organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and 21 Progress. The poem you just heard by Sumeya was written at our MLK Day workshop combating Islamophobia and Antisemitism. And the final workshop, with a focus on supporting and elevating immigrant and refugee voices, is just around the corner on May 6.
We have also launched our new congregational partnership program, in which a number of local congregations are using Kids4Peace curriculum in their religious schools and are coming together for shared experiences like visits to other houses of worship and potluck dinners.
Now, it’s not quite time to take out your wallets, but I do want to say just one quick word about money before I wrap up. We have set an ambitious goal tonight to raise $50,000. That is about a 40% increase from the $35,000 that we raised at this event last year. We have set this ambitious target because, by the end of this year, we want to be able to hire a community organizer who can help us include even more communities in our work, including those communities most impacted by current government policies. And thanks to some visionary leadership from four of our loyal supporters, we have already raised $15,000 toward our goal tonight. This group really wants to see us get to $50,000, and I know that if we come together as a community, we can help each other out to get this done.
If we’re successful, it will allow us to strengthen our new initiatives, reach more communities, and ensure that even more youth can exercise the leadership skills that are innately within them. Of course, we can’t do any of this without the support of our community, which is at the heart of everything we do in Kids4Peace
To conclude, I want to ask all of you a question. Like almost all of our youth, I have become absolutely obsessed with the musical, Hamilton, over the past couple of years. One of my favourite moments in the show comes when Alexander Hamilton, after spending months as George Washington’s secretary, is finally given command of troops in the Revolutionary War. Maybe one reason this play has resonated with so many people is that, like our present moment, the Revolutionary period was both an awful time and an amazing time to be living here. The ravages of war were perhaps made just a little easier to bear by the hope and the possibility that came from creating something completely new, as imperfect as that new creation ended up being.
When Washington gives Hamilton his command, he reminds him of the power and the responsibility of the position by saying, “History has its eyes on you.” That line always sticks with me: “History has its eyes on you.” And it sticks with me because in our present moment, when we can push back against the awfulness by seizing the amazing opportunities we have been given, I know that history has its eyes on us. And the question that our youth are asking themselves and the question they are asking you is, “What are we going to do with this moment we’ve been given?” I think we should start by following the lead of our youth.