On November 4th, UCAN held its 3rd Annual Youth Peace Summit (YPS) at our Drost Harding Campus in North Lawndale. Held in conjunction with St. Pauls UCC, YPS primarily serves as a space for open dialogue for youth to talk about subjects like the causes of violence and ways to spread peace.
“The premise of the Youth Peace Summit, is to look for anti-violence solutions from a young person’s perspective,” says Janella Curtis, External Affairs Manager at UCAN. “They have a voice and in this setting, we respect and take their opinions seriously.”
UCAN CEO and President, Zack Schrantz welcomed the youth who then split into small discussion groups led by a member of the Youth Peace Council. It was important that the breakouts be organized and led by seven diverse young people within the Council. Limited assistance was offered from UCAN staff so that youth involved could feel more empowered by the discussions.
The discussion topics included:
- Developing Youth Leadership Skills
- Implementing Violence Prevention Strategies
- Improving Race and Cultural Relationships
- Gender and Sexuality: Acceptance through understanding
- Developing Healthy Relationships
- Pursuing & Choosing Peace
After reconvening as a large group, workshop leaders shared what they had learned from each discussion.
“We talked about young males, about how violence affects each other. We came to the conclusion that we need the youth to speak up more. We have a lot of resources in the community that we should take advantage of,” says Jarvis, a YPS Council member whose group discussed violence prevention. North Lawndale Alderman, Michael Scott Jr. (24th) attended their workshop and through his presence, underscored the importance of connecting with the larger community and its resources.
“We talked a lot about what race is, its components, and how it fluctuates depending on who you ask,” explains Jake Nitzsche, a YPS Council member. “We talked about how the perception of what race is can influence things like stereotypes and how that can be prevented. Lack of communication across different cultural groups and racial groups can cause that.”
“In the end, we just wanted people to be comfortable with having more conversations about race, acknowledging it and not being afraid to talk about it,” adds Isabel Gasper, a member of the YPS Council.
Ald. Emma Mitt (37th) offered advice to youth on how to get engaged with their local government. Two representatives from Chicago’s new Civilian Office of Police Accountability also spoke and answered questions from guests about community relationships with police officers and how training has shifted given recent accusations of brutality.
The event concluded with a speech from businessman and philanthropist Dr. Willie Wilson, who, surprising everyone in the room, gave each youth attendee $100 bill, and challenged them to use the money to “start something” and to “think big.”
The youth, all smiles, chatting with each other about potential ideas, left the summit with a new understanding of the complex variables that affect peace and violence in their community, and subsequently, their own lives.