What About Honoring our Own Local Nobel-Worthy Peace Laureates?

Each year in early October the Nobel Peace Prize recipient is announced. The announcement will either be ignored or alternatively greeted with celebration, surprise, befuddlement or as is sometimes the case, disdain. Global peacemakers certainly deserve as much note and praise, if not more, as those achievers in film, music, theater, and sports who often receive the bulk of our attention.

It is past time we also celebrated and supported all those unsung peacebuilders who are working on the front lines for peace in our own communities here in the U.S. (not to mention countless more around the globe). They rarely get recognized, either in our local or our national media, where the attention is primarily on the ratings grabbing headlines that focus on the sensational, or the problems we face, far more than the stories of hope, transformation and redemption.

And yet, in big and small ways, many thousands ARE working heroically right in our own cities here in the United States to help ameliorate violence, including the regions that are often called our own domestic "war zones." Examples of these peacebuilders include: teachers who bring conflict resolution education and social and emotional learning into classrooms; those working on the ground in communities to mitigate gang violence; those working in prison programs to help inmates turn their lives around; and a burgeoning Restorative Justice movement that is bringing healing to both victims and perpetrators of crime. These are just a few examples.

While there are many peacebuilding champions at work in our communities, there are too few to meet the immense challenges we face. Violence and crime are epidemic in our culture. We have some of the highest rates of homicide in the world and our youth are some of the hardest hit. U.S. youth homicide and suicide rates are more than 10 times that of any other leading industrial nation. The United States today spends $2.16 Trillion each year to contain violence, according to a study conducted by The Institute for Economics and Peace.

Yet, the punitive and retributive methods we primarily use to deal with our challenges are not making the change we need. In fact, our "tough on crime" laws have created both a national industry of largely non-rehabilitative privatized prisons (and one of the nation's most powerful lobbies), and a culture of hardened, repeat offenders who aren't able to break-out of their criminal or violent patterns. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States has nearly 25 percent - 2.3 million - of its prisoners. This should be a glaring sign of a system gone wrong.

There are more effective and humane ways to make a more positive difference, especially with our youth. Focusing on prevention, before these problems arise, and smart, healing oriented intervention programs are essential if we want to get off this ineffective and inhumane path. In addition to acknowledging our own community peacebuilders, we also need to support them. The work they do is providing a lifeline that not only saves lives, but also saves money.

There is overwhelming evidence to show that children can move from a cradle to prison pipeline to a cradle to college and career pipeline. All the credible research shows that a continuum of comprehensive, evidenced-based prevention and intervention programs for youth at risk of, or involved in, delinquent behavior will greatly reduce crime, dramatically reducing costs when the avoided law enforcement and social welfare expenditures are considered.

A study by the non-partisan Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that for every dollar spent on county juvenile detention systems, $1.98 of "benefits" was achieved in terms of reduced crime and the cost of crime to taxpayers. By contrast, diversion and mentoring programs produced $3.36 of benefits for every dollar spent, aggression replacement training produced $10 of benefits for every dollar spent, and multi-systemic therapy produced $13 of benefits for every dollar spent.

That's why initiatives like the Youth PROMISE Act, which stands for the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education Act, a bill currently before our U.S. House (HR 1318) and Senate (S 1307) is earning bi-partisan support in congress and endorsements by over 350 organizations and state and local governing bodies. It is sponsored in the House by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) & Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Senate by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) & Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

The Youth PROMISE Act will go a long way in giving our communities the support and funding they need to effectively address youth violence issues. By specifically focusing on proven, effective violence prevention and intervention strategies, this bill ensures we are funding programs that save lives and money, and give every young person the opportunity to meet his or her fullest potential.

Shouldn't it be a fundamental cultural goal to have even more peacebuilders working in our own communities, who may one day rise to the level of respect and acknowledgment of Nobel Peace Laureates? Let's give them the chance, by making smarter investments here in the U.S. that focus more on prevention and restorative practices, like the Youth PROMISE Act, which could put hundreds of thousands more peacebuilders on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

At this time of year, when the Nobel Peace laureates are lauded, let's expand the focus to include embedding the principles and the practices of peace even more solidly here at home and begin to develop a culture of peacebuilders that we can spotlight as some of our greatest cultural champions. They deserve it, and we desperately need it.