By Callie Puryear
Over 150 local high school students spent time in an award-winning program that equips students to build peace in their communities, countries and the world. One of those is Woodlawn High School graduate Steven Crenshaw
NewGen Peacebuilders is a global education program that partners with Youth & Peace in Action (YPA) to train and teach students to “Build Peace and Repeat the Peace” in their communities and beyond. All seven Birmingham City high schools undertook a year-long journey to give students the opportunity to receive their certification.
Even though 8,000 young people have been certified around the world, Birmingham is the first city to complete a year-long program across all public high schools.
“My favorite part of this journey has been going to speak to different organizations and actually presenting our mission to them. I’ve learned a lot about how to properly run an organization, how to be a good leader and how to have different perspectives and views,” Crenshaw said.
Certified NewGen Peacebuilders are trained to:
–understand drivers of conflict and peace
–imagine innovative solutions that create change
–take positive actions to address issues affecting their communities
Their mission: Make learning to be a peace builder a rite of passage for everyone.
“I think it’s important for programs like this to be part of a high school curriculum. Learning conflict resolution, learning ways to prevent violence in the community and just giving students a different perspective is something that would be very beneficial to high school students,” Crenshaw said.
Their training process includes core issues maps that each school’s team created to find common issues and scenarios in their area.
Teams of 5-8 people started with a blank map representing the area that their school is zoned for. From there, they used post-its, images, clips from news stories, data and personal observations to map out the issues they found to be most present.
From 30 maps, they came up with 11 core issues, including:
–trauma + mental health
–need for green (working to turn overgrown lots to parks)
–safety/security for women + children of color
–dangerous stray dogs running wild in streets
They split into teams dedicated to specific issues, spent time researching ways to combat those and presented them to various organizations within the city.
As we walked through the halls of Steven’s alma mater, at least three faculty members stopped us to say things like “you’re walking with the future president of the United States” or “just wait until he’s the mayor.”
It is clear that Crenshaw has a bright future, with many more peace projects to come.
“I’m starting college at Miles College this month,” he said. “I plan to double major in political science and basic law, with hopes of running for office one day or starting my own social enterprise focusing on similar core issues like we’ve done through this program.”
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