By: Fish Stark, Peace First Fellow-in-Residence
In all the outpouring of news and commentary that’s followed the violence in Charlottesville, there’s one story that’s been excluded: the flood of young people who are actively pushing back against intolerance and leading the charge for a more peaceful and welcoming world.
Today’s young people are the most tolerant the world has ever seen. We have unparalleled empathy for others, especially immigrants and refugees. Not only do young people volunteer more, we’re far more likely than previous generations to say that we want to make a difference, and we work towards that vision every day. But cultural narratives tend to see young people as victims, perpetrators, or “the future,” not as leaders and changemakers right now.
Peace First works with young people all over the world to help them create communities that are safer, more tolerant, and more just. Through the Peace First Challenge digital platform, we provide young people with project planning tools, caring adult mentors, and start-up funds to launch projects that address injustices they care about.
And then we tell their stories, so the world can realize the power of young people to change their communities and our culture. Here are just a few of them:
Building Interfaith Solidarity in Ohio with the Peace-Builders
Durya Nadeem, Grace Taylor, and Dilara Marasil are three of the young leaders of the Peace-Builders, a group of students in Ohio who work to spark dialogue between students of different faiths to encourage tolerance and understanding.
Their work was born from their personal experiences with discrimination and intolerance, and their theory of change is simple: by bringing people together for interfaith conversations, they can build understanding and compassion and reduce the fear and ignorance that intolerance feeds on.
Just days after Charlottesville, they hosted the first in their series of interfaith events in the greater Columbus area. At a time when reports of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia dominate the news, these young leaders—who range in age from 15 to 20—are doing necessary work to build religious tolerance on a local level.
Creating Spaces for Women of Color to Heal and Organize in New York with Women of Color in Solidarity
Florcy Romero and Cheyenne Wyzzard-Jones are the leaders of Women of Color in Solidarity, a collective that convenes women/femmes of color to educate, heal, and resist together. In their powerful response to the Charlottesville violence, they sent the message that the resistance movement “needs to be women/femme [of] color led.”
This team of young women of color—all under 25— has been actively building power for that resistance, working with other groups to bring women of color together for conversations, workshops, and solidarity-building, including a conference by and for women of color in April and a digital activism training in July.
In their words: “The KKK, neo-nazis, and other white supremacist groups are organizing... through a common purpose, hatred and whiteness...We need to get collectively organized [too].”
Countering Racist Media Narratives in Georgia with Weird Enough Productions
Tony Weaver, 23, is the founder of Weird Enough Productions, which creates video programming and media literacy seminars to counter the media narratives that stereotype, tokenize, and erase people of color. It also holds media literacy workshops at schools in the Atlanta area, designed to help young people decode the messages of racism found in the media we consume.
The first in a six-part short film series from Weird Enough Productions
What Weaver finds scariest about the Charlottesville violence is that "they weren't crotchety old men. They're people our age. That's what makes it scary— the internet is creating this breeding ground for white supremacists, and that's why for us media literacy is really important in the wake of Charlottesville."
What Are You Waiting For?
The surging intolerance in America is ugly and terrifying, but young people have the power to stop it in its tracks. Our natural compassion and tolerance, our ability to hope, and our inclination to create and lead has positioned us to lead the movement for justice and inclusion.
Peace First, partnering with The Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young program, has worked with all of these young people, helping them access project planning tools, mentors, and funding to launch and sustain their projects. If you’re a young person who wants to stand up to hate in your community, join our network of young changemakers at www.peacefirst.org.
Adults have a role to play in supporting young people’s work, too: the most important question they can ask is “How can I help?”
Fish Stark is a Fellow-in-Residence at Peace First, a partner organization of America’s Promise Alliance. He was also a 2017 America’s Promise Youth Leadership finalist.